Science and engineering meet the green energy transition

A nice survey of the realities that are starting to bite as RE ramps up past the level where grids can take it in their stride.

Executive Summary
A movement has been growing for decades to replace hydrocarbons, which collectively supply 84% of the world’s energy. It began with the fear that we were running out of oil. That fear has since migrated to the belief that, because of climate change and other environmental concerns, society can no longer tolerate burning oil, natural gas, and coal—all of which have turned out to be abundant.

So far, wind, solar, and batteries—the favored alternatives to hydrocarbons—provide about 2% of the world’s energy and 3% of America’s. Nonetheless, a bold new claim has gained popularity: that we’re on the cusp of a tech-driven energy revolution that not only can, but inevitably will, rapidly replace all hydrocarbons.

This “new energy economy” rests on the belief—a centerpiece of the Green New Deal and other similar proposals both here and in Europe—that the technologies of wind and solar power and battery storage are undergoing the kind of disruption experienced in computing and communications, dramatically lowering costs and increasing efficiency. But this core analogy glosses over profound differences, grounded in physics, between systems that produce energy and those that produce information.

In the world of people, cars, planes, and factories, increases in consumption, speed, or carrying capacity cause hardware to expand, not shrink. The energy needed to move a ton of people, heat a ton of steel or silicon, or grow a ton of food is determined by properties of nature whose boundaries are set by laws of gravity, inertia, friction, mass, and thermodynamics—not clever software.

This paper highlights the physics of energy to illustrate why there is no possibility that the world is undergoing or can undergo—a near-term transition to a “new energy economy.”

Among the reasons:
Scientists have yet to discover, and entrepreneurs have yet to invent, anything as remarkable as hydrocarbons in terms of the combination of low-cost, high-energy density, stability, safety, and portability. In practical terms, this means that spending $1 million on utility-scale wind turbines, or solar panels will each, over 30 years of operation, produce about 50 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) — while an equivalent $1 million spent on a shale rig produces enough natural gas over 30 years to generate over 300 million kWh.

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43 Responses to Science and engineering meet the green energy transition

  1. GoWest

    Nothing will change because the govt is making a fortune out of it. – mind you the economic growth has to be kept low as possible to ensure the public service cant justify a pay rise…

  2. Rossini

    Australia the lucky country run by incompetent people!
    Our luck has almost vanished.

  3. Rayvic

    Thanks to our naive politicians, the RE companies are getting away with a massive conflict of interest: they are making a fortune from the demise of coal-fired baseload power while the economy is made to suffer rising power prices and diminishing power supply reliability.

  4. Zyconoclast

    …incompetent… and …naive…

    Why not call it what it really is, corrupt.

  5. John Constantine

    Calls for a royal commission into exposing those superprofiting from their Murray darling basin plan need to expand to expose those crony donors superprofiting from the corruption of our electricity and the corruption of our property Ponzi and the corruption of our outsourced immigration and welfare industries and the Corruption of our electoral redistribution industry.

    For starters.

    Comrades.

  6. Mark M

    Damn sure our current crop of political green elites are not naive and know exactly what damage they wrought on Australia for their UN masters.

    Traitors. All of them.

  7. Herodotus

    This fine man will no doubt be deplatformed by the left and big tech for smoking a cigarette in 1974.
    One hopes this set of truths will be used by the six or so journalists of high profile who resist the tsunami of verbiage from the vast majority of the media telling people that climate change is real and all their fault.
    This paper should be mandatory reading for all politicians with then attention span to cope with it, and it should be explained in simple,terms to the remainder.
    After that, if there’s no change in tack by the pollies, Mark M above is correct.

  8. Roger

    Why not call it what it really is, corrupt.

    +100

  9. Bruce of Newcastle

    Bob Brown is opposing a windfarm in Tasmania. Not because it is useless, expensive and unreliable. No he has a different reason for opposing it.

    It spoils the view.

    Actually I’m rather pleased that he’s noticed the wretched things also massacre birds. Wish he’d noticed that about 20 years ago before so many were installed. Fast on the uptake is our Bob.

  10. 132andBush

    The push for renewables, the MDBA and mass immigration are all riding on the “it feels like the right thing” horse of post modernist thinking.
    Empiricism was shot and sent to the knackery when Hansen turned the air cons down in the US Senate back in 1998.

  11. John Constantine

    https://youthsense.com.au/employers/gen-z-believe-human-made-climate-change/

    A 17-year-old from NSW had headed north to fight the recently approved Adani mine which will export coal to India.

    “For the first two months of this year I lived under a tarp in Queensland where I spent every day fighting the Adani mine and building connections,” he said.

    “Since then I have been voluntarily homeless, travelling around helping and organising environmental campaigns to disrupt the system and try to get some actual action on climate change.

  12. 132andBush

    “For the first two months of this year I lived under a tarp in Queensland where I spent every day fighting the Adani mine and building connections,” he said.

    It’s the Kokoda Track all over again!

  13. Leo G

    The energy needed to move a ton of people, heat a ton of steel or silicon, or grow a ton of food is determined by properties of nature whose boundaries are set by laws of gravity, inertia, friction, mass, and thermodynamics—not clever software.

    Currently, to move a tonne of people around the city in their automobiles with an average occupancy of 1.2 person per auto, also moves about 22 tonnes of automobiles. It might be more clever to shift automotive technology to hybrid petrol-electric and space-frame vehicle construction and reduce the figure to say 11 tonnes of vehicle per person-tonne, thereby also increasing the effective service life of the vehicles.

  14. Up The Workers!

    To Bruce of Newcastle at 6.57am, who said:

    “Bob Brown is opposing a wind farm in Tasmania.”

    Bob Brown IS a wind farm in Tasmania.

    If only we could curtail his output of carbon dioxide, the world would be a far happier, less gillarded place.

  15. Rafe Champion

    A heads up for a good book on the climate by a local lad, Howard Thomas Brady in the ACT.He gave a talk to the Five Dock Climate Realists and described trip to the Antarctic with a US science team, he ticked two boxes to get the gig, he was the RC padre and he is a geoscientist with a special line in fossils to chart past climates.

    The book is Mirrors and Mazes.

    Some features of the book:
    – the overlay of the trend in CO2 over 150 years on top of other things like temperature and storms to show the zero correlation.
    – a chapter on the IPCC with example of dud claims and a long list of top scientists who resigned from committees to protect their scientific reputations.
    – studies of Australian coastlines to refute the rising tides alarm .

  16. Dr Fred Lenin

    One of the pollies main concerns should be the scampower making revenue from pokies spasmodic and unreliable ,you need heaps of real power to run a pokie palace .
    Hospitals run on electricity too ,a reliable constant supply ,scampower wont work there .
    Another important thing are the dining rooms and bars in our heaps of parliament houses , pollies going without hot meals , cold beer and chilled wine during the gruelling bull sessions would be intolerable ,dozing would be a thing of the past .
    Perhaps taxpayer funded diesel generators would be in order,after all Australia has about a weeks supply at any given moment .

  17. Tim Neilson

    One of the pollies main concerns should be the scampower making revenue from pokies spasmodic and unreliable ,you need heaps of real power to run a pokie palace .

    Very true Dr Fred.

    Also, CFMMEUistan would be broke* within weeks if the grid went down and revenue raising cameras on the Melbourne-Geelong road weren’t operating.

    * ok even more broke than we already are.

  18. min

    Great to hear Howard Brady is out spreading the message . I organised for him to come and speak in Melbourne 2 years ago . However he said to me since thst he is staggered at the lack of knowledge he has come across in professional bodies ,such as engineers, that he has addressed.
    I bet not too many of the general population would have read about latest research by scientists in Finland and Japan saying cloud cover is the culprit not CO2.

  19. cohenite

    In practical terms, this means that spending $1 million on utility-scale wind turbines, or solar panels will each, over 30 years of operation, produce about 50 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) — while an equivalent $1 million spent on a shale rig produces enough natural gas over 30 years to generate over 300 million kWh.

    Even this stark comparison goes no where near the truth about wind and solar because you never know when they will produce power, they produce power in surges and the power they produce is the wrong sort.

    I get sick of these comparisons because they just do some sort of levelized costing when there is no levelized cost base to compare. Seriously the people who advocate renewables are just thieves and vandals.

  20. RobK

    I get sick of these comparisons because they just do some sort of levelized costing when there is no levelized cost base to compare.
    The posted essay does explain the levelised costing weakness quite well.

    The myth of grid parity
    How do these capacity and cost disadvantages square with claims that wind and solar are already at or near “grid parity” with conventional sources of electricity? The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) and other similar analyses report a “levelized cost of energy” (LCOE) for all types of electric power technologies. In the EIA’s LCOE calculations, electricity from a wind turbine or solar array is calculated as 36% and 46%, respectively, more expensive than from a natural-gas turbine—i.e., approaching parity.28 But in a critical and rarely noted caveat, EIA states: “The LCOE values for dispatchable and non-dispatchable technologies are listed separately in the tables because comparing them must be done carefully”29 (emphasis added). Put differ- ently, the LCOE calculations do not take into account the array of real, if hidden, costs needed to operate a reliable 24/7 and 365-day-per-year energy infrastruc- ture—or, in particular, a grid that used only wind/solar.
    The LCOE considers the hardware in isolation while ignoring real-world system costs essential to supply 24/7 power. Equally misleading, an LCOE calculation, despite its illusion of precision, relies on a variety of assumptions and guesses subject to dispute, if not bias.
    For example, an LCOE assumes that the future cost of competing fuels—notably, natural gas—will rise signifi- cantly. But that means that the LCOE is more of a fore- castthanacalculation.Thisisimportantbecausea“lev- elized cost” uses such a forecast to calculate a purported average cost over a long period. The assumption that gas prices will go up is at variance with the fact that they have decreased over the past decade and the evidence that low prices are the new normal for the foreseeable future.30 Adjusting the LCOE calculation to reflect a future where gas prices don’t rise radically increases the LCOE cost advantage of natural gas over wind/solar.
    An LCOE incorporates an even more subjective feature, called the “discount rate,” which is a way of comparing the value of money today versus the future. A low discount rate has the effect of tilting an outcome to make it more appealing to spend precious capital today to solve a future (theoretical) problem. Advocates of using low discount rates are essentially assuming slow economic growth.31
    A high discount rate effectively assumes that a future society will be far richer than today (not to mention have better technology).32 Economist William Nord- haus’s work in this field, wherein he advocates using a high discount rate, earned him a 2018 Nobel Prize.
    An LCOE also requires an assumption about average multi-decade capacity factors, the share of time the equipment actually operates (i.e., the real, not theoret- ical, amount of time the sun shines and wind blows). EIA assumes, for example, 41% and 29% capacity factors, respectively, for wind and solar. But data col- lected from operating wind and solar farms reveal actual median capacity factors of 33% and 22%.33 The difference between assuming a 40% but experiencing a 30% capacity factor means that, over the 20-year life of a 2-MW wind turbine, $3 million of energy produc- tion assumed in the financial models won’t exist—and that’s for a turbine with an initial capital cost of about $3 million.
    U.S. wind-farm capacity factors have been getting better but at a slow rate of about 0.7% per year over the past two decades.34 Notably, this gain was achieved mainly by reducing the number of turbines per acre trying to scavenge moving air—resulting in average land used per unit of wind energy increasing by some 50%.
    LCOE calculations do reasonably include costs for such things as taxes, the cost of borrowing, and main- tenance. But here, too, mathematical outcomes give the appearance of precision while hiding assumptions. For example, assumptions about maintenance costs and performance of wind turbines over the long term may be overly optimistic. Data from the U.K., which is further down the wind-favored path than the U.S., point to far faster degradation (less electricity per turbine) than originally forecast.35
    To address at least one issue with using LCOE as a tool, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently pro- posed the idea of a “value-adjusted” LCOE, or VALCOE, to include the elements of flexibility and incorporate the economic implications of dispatchability. IEA cal- culations using a VALCOE method yielded coal power, for example, far cheaper than solar, with a cost penalty widening as a grid’s share of solar generation rises.36
    One would expect that, long before a grid is 100% wind/solar, the kinds of real costs outlined above should already be visible. As it happens, regardless of putative LCOEs, we do have evidence of the economic impact that arises from increasing the use of wind and solar energy.

    It’s one of the best critiques ive read.

  21. Leo G

    … there is no possibility that the world is undergoing or can undergo—a near-term transition to a “new energy economy.”

    Even so, some new energy economists have no problem forseeing usergy use without any need of an energy source:-

    “Electric vehicles are projected to represent around 19 per cent of the light vehicle fleet in Australia within the next two decades. Inevitably, they will become the world’s dominant mode of transport and they don’t use any fuel at all.” – Eryk Bagshaw, Economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

  22. Dr Fred Lenin

    You think the Monash Freeway is a huge parking lot now ,wait till the globalist EV s are the only transport , ,the wind stops the sun goes behind the clouds and Zippo ! Our cities become massive parking lots .
    Country transport will br interesting , horses ,bullocks ? No animal lib fascists will stop that. Carts drawn by groups of deniers with antifa guards? That sounds about right .

  23. Lilliana

    Bob Brown does say something useful. Let the windfarm proponents pay for the cable to the mainland.
    Tasmania has sufficient on island generation so the electricity from the bird killers will be for mainland consumption.
    At the movement there is a big push to build another cable across Bass Strait. It’s extraordinarily expensive way to get electricity given the cost of the bird killers, the cost of the cable and the transmission losses involved. The feasibility study to date have said that it will take lots of coal generators to close before the project is viable.
    But that bit never reaches the media. The Government is pouring more money into the project so it will probably get up regardless of the cost. All the additional transmission costs to link remote generation to the grid means only one thing – higher prices. There is no other conclusion. No amount of Government policy will change this. Someone has to pay to build those poles and wires and most likely once built they will probably be flogged to China with a guarantee of some ridiculous revenue stream.

    We live in crazy times.

  24. Rex Mango

    What can one teacup of, lift one ton, one mile high? Gasoline. Gasoline also powered man’s first heavier than air flight. Kerosene powered the first stage of the Saturn V moon rocket. Nothing beats fossil fuels for fuel efficiency.

  25. Percy Popinjay

    Eryk Bagshaw, Economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

    Any relation to Doris?

  26. Bruce of Newcastle

    “Electric vehicles are projected to represent around 19 per cent of the light vehicle fleet in Australia within the next two decades.

    ROFL.

  27. Destroyer D69

    An unfortunate truth on the ability of renewables to supply the most essential power demand in the country From Jo Nova comments.TonyfromOz
    July 11, 2019 at 8:31 pm · Reply

    I’ve been preoccupied for the last eleven days. My good lady wife took ill, and after transport to hospital at Redland Bay General. She was diagnosed with a small Pneumonia and fluid on the lungs. It was a harrowing time for five days of the eight days she has now been there in hospital, as it got worse. They drained the fluid on day three, an amazing thing to see from a detached point of view, and how the draining needle was guided directly to the fluid bulge via Ultrasound. I have never seen so many medical people in the one room, and everyone has a set task, and it’s efficiency personified. They bring everything to the patient, and it’s done in the room where she is, in the High Dependency Unit. The drain stayed in for three days, as they ‘flushed’ all the other pockets of fluid out, guided by X Rays, and that small machine is also brought to her in that room as well. There was around 600mL of fluid all up, and it drained for three days, with a ‘flush’ with specific chemicals to get all the remaining pockets of fluid. Three or four further X Rays were also brought to her, in that room as well. She’s improving, but there’s a way to go yet. I’m there every day for five to six hours, hence I haven’t been as active as I have usually been.

    During the time I was not there, those hours I am in this lonely old apartment, Barbara asked the nurse (one of so many there) why it was so cold in there. I always thought it would have been for a ‘solid’ medical reason, but it was explained to Barbara that they keep it cold because there is so much electrical equipment, generating its own heat, and there is a need to keep all of that cold, and cool the ‘generated’ heat from all that electrical equipment. Knowing my interest in the electrical side of things Barbara mentioned it to me, and I then also quizzed a nurse, (a different one that Barbara asked) and the response was exactly the same. As a sidelight, there are as many male nurses as there are female nurses, and the same also applies for Doctors, although the five or so Specialists I have seen have all been males, and the treatment from everyone, so many people, is superb.

    And there is electrical equipment like I have never seen in my life, and so much of it. You imagine there might be a lot in hospitals, but until you actually see it, (and from the point of view of my being trained in that electrical field) you just cannot believe it.They all have wheel borne computers with all the records of every patient, and there are quite literally hundreds of them, as they are ubiquitous, and absolutely everywhere, with someone in front of each and every one of them. The amount of electrical equipment is absolutely astonishing.

    So, then what might you perceive that the electrical power consumption for this medium sized hospital might be?

    From a now temporary detached position, considering the personal situation, last night I came home and looked it up, and chased it down, and found as much information as I could, not just looking at one site, but chasing down a number of them.

    A medium sized hospital of this similar size consumes around 40MWH of electrical power per day. FORTY MEGAWATTHOURS a day.

    The average Australian home consumes 20KWH of power per day, so this hospital consumes the equivalent of two thousand average homes. It’s also not like a home where the bulk is consumed during the evening peak. This is consumed constantly across, day and night.

    Any power outage is inconceivable. They just HAVE to have that power in place, 24/7/365, no questions asked.

    There is no way known on this God’s good Earth that they can do without power FULL STOP.

    That power will NEVER be supplied by wind power or any form of solar power ….. also FULL STOP.

    Now add up all the hospitals, and large ones in Capital cities might consume anything up to 60MWH PLUS per day.

    Look at the Load Curve for power consumption and note that the minimum power consumption each and every day here in Australia is 18000MW.

    Part of that is hospitals, and when you have someone in a hospital who is so near and dear, you WANT that power to be there ….. FOREVER, without wavering.

    It’s a [email protected] necessity.

    Guess what form of power generation CAN actually deliver that power on a constant and reliable basis.

    It isn’t wind power and it isn’t solar power, and it NEVER will be.

    THAT’S why coal fired power is so important.

    My good lady wife will recover, thank the Lord, and coal fired power will play its part in that.

    I rant on sometimes about it, but this is the actual pointy end, and until you see it, you can have your green dream, but be aware that green dream is actually a full blown cast iron, absolute nightmare.

    FORTY MEGAWATTHOURS PER DAY ….. EVERY DAY.

    Tony.

    240

    #

  28. Nato

    Reproducible experimentation? Wait, that’s illegal!
    You are entitled to an alternative opinion, but not alternative facts.

  29. I would hope that other Catallaxians put their two bobs worth in…
    “Robert Sewell commented seconds ago · Flag
    So Doctor Bob has just noticed the ecocrucifixes kill thousands of birds each year? Or is it because they will spoil his view? “

  30. egg_

    climate change is real

    Is that the same assertion as Elvis lives?

    The parallel universe, yet again.

  31. Howard Hill

    “Electric vehicles are projected to represent around 19 per cent of the light vehicle fleet in Australia within the next two decades. Inevitably, they will become the world’s dominant mode of transport and they don’t use any fuel at all.” – Eryk Bagshaw, Economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

    FMD! I never thought I’d see this level of bullshit printed for real. How does someone with the credentials of an Economics correspondent have such a low IQ. I mean this level of dumb is greater than village idiot dumbness.
    Remember the name, Eryk Bagshaw. This imbecile has the the brains of a bag of air.

  32. egg_

    Green fossil Brown objects to their Green Nude Eel?

  33. I went back to check – I has bin sensored.
    But this hasn’t:

    Maybe, we should start looking at our excessive use of artificial electricity.

  34. Iampeter

    That fear has since migrated to the belief that, because of climate change and other environmental concerns, society can no longer tolerate burning oil, natural gas, and coal—all of which have turned out to be abundant.

    A belief that Conservative movements across the West used to justify building the environmentalist bureaucracy we know and enjoy today. Everyone seems to forget that while the Greens cooked this madness up, the Conservatives made it a bureaucratic reality.
    So those who think John Howard and Tony Abbott were good politicians, for example, can’t oppose AOC and the Green New Deal. In fact people that are this contradictory have a lot of explaining to do, or conceding they don’t have any idea what’s going on.

    This paper highlights the physics of energy to illustrate why there is no possibility that the world is undergoing or can undergo—a near-term transition to a “new energy economy.”

    Wouldn’t you just argue that outside of very specific situations, things like solar power are net consumers, not producers of energy? This would render papers like this pointless.

    The book is Mirrors and Mazes.
    Some features of the book:
    – the overlay of the trend in CO2 over 150 years on top of other things like temperature and storms to show the zero correlation.

    Nor is temperature in any way driven by CO2, so unless this book is exposing the pseudo-science underpinning all of climate alarmism, why recommend it?

    This is one of two problems with the “lukewarm” faction of this debate.
    Firstly, a lot of your arguments, books, studies, etc, get the fundamental science as wrong as the alarmists, thus losing the scientific debate.
    Secondly, none of these arguments matter anyway. Physics doesn’t determine politics. Politics is a science all of it’s own and understanding of politic theory is what is used to determine what a government should, or should not do and why.

    So even if we were to grant the alarmists all of their arguments, it changes nothing about politics.

    This entire issue is being dominated by factions that don’t know the science, but more importantly, don’t know anything about politics. This is why the left is winning by default as usual. There’s no opposition to the alarmists position, neither on the science, nor from a political point of view.

    Posts like this are just a massive pretense to be discussing a subject of which there seems to be pretty much zero understanding.

  35. Frank Walker from National Tiles

    Percy Popinjay
    #3107828, posted on July 15, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    Eryk Bagshaw, Economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

    Any relation to Doris?

    You know it.

  36. egg_

    This entire issue is being dominated by factions that don’t know the science, but more importantly, don’t know anything about politics. This is why the left is winning by default as usual.

    Third string retail career politicians on both sides of the House equals mediocrity.

  37. Howard Hill

    Buccaneer
    #3107977, posted on July 15, 2019 at 4:41 pm
    Great analysis of the problem

    But Greens got the relationship between energy and the environment backward.

    As people consume higher levels of energy the overall environmental impact is overwhelmingly positive, not negative. As we consume greater amounts of energy we can live in cities, stop using wood as fuel, and afford to have fewer children.

    And as humans use more energy for agriculture in the form of tractors and fertilizers, we are able to grow more food on less land, allowing marginal lands to return to grasslands, forests, and wildlife.

    Why can’t our stupid politicians see this?

  38. Howard Hill

    On reflection after reading that article, Buccaneer.
    It would seem our politicians are completely compromised?

  39. Beachcomber

    Howard Hill at 3:12 pm

    FMD! I never thought I’d see this level of bullshit printed for real. How does someone with the credentials of an Economics correspondent have such a low IQ. I mean this level of dumb is greater than village idiot dumbness.
    Remember the name, Eryk Bagshaw. This imbecile has the the brains of a bag of air.

    Mr Bagshaw is not dumb or stupid or an imbecile. He is rat-cunning smart. He is doing exactly what is required to be successful in the fascist-left establishment media.

  40. Dr Fred Llenin

    Where the Fruk did he get a name like Fruk _?Ihave never heard of anyone called Fruk,he should change it to Trevor ,yes, Trevor Bagshaw that sounds like a normal persons name

  41. Buccaneer

    Compliant media that refuse to report anything other than regurgitated ideology as fact do a great job of wedging politicians of all types into believing that the emperor is wearing clothing. Or just telling us all the emperor does out of expediency.

  42. 132andBush

    Howard Hill

    #3108001, posted on July 15, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Buccaneer
    #3107977, posted on July 15, 2019 at 4:41 pm
    Great analysis of the problem

    But Greens got the relationship between energy and the environment backward.

    As people consume higher levels of energy the overall environmental impact is overwhelmingly positive, not negative. As we consume greater amounts of energy we can live in cities, stop using wood as fuel, and afford to have fewer children.

    And as humans use more energy for agriculture in the form of tractors and fertilizers, we are able to grow more food on less land, allowing marginal lands to return to grasslands, forests, and wildlife.

    Why can’t our stupid politicians see this?

    Howard,
    Start with the premise that a lot of our ruling/political/anointed class see humans as a virus on mother earth and all this bullshit starts to make sense.

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