Overpopulation/overdevelopment defeats all carbon reduction schemes

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May 13 2021

The following is standard reporting by the media.

Bill Chappell of NPR writes on Tuesday, May 11, 2021:

Renewable Energy Capacity Jumped 45% Worldwide In 2020

Despite the pandemic, the world's renewable energy capacity jumped 45% to 280 gigawatts in 2020, part of "an unprecedented boom" in wind and solar energy.

Actually, global consumption of the combination of wind and solar energy increased from 3.08 percent to 3.59 percent of total global energy consumption from 2019 to 2020. (See note 1 at bottom of page.)

This poor energy reporter, as with most of them, doesn't seem know the difference between power and energy; thus his opening sentence has no meaning. Energy is measured in gigawatt hours, while power is measured in gigawatts. It would be like saying that the distance from Minneapolis to Bemidji is 215 miles per hour.

To promote renewable energy as a replacement for fossil fuels and nuclear energy is to essentially promote wind and solar energy, as all other renewables are minor players. (See note 2 at bottom of page.)

In Chappell's opening sentence, as in his headline, he claims that "the world's renewable [power] capacity jumped 45% to 280 gigawatts in 2020".

Actually, the world's renewable power capacity is ten times that amount. What increased by 45 percent is the amount of renewable power capacity added in 2020 (280 GW) as compared to the amount of renewable power capacity added in 2019 (193 GW).

(I wrote NPR an email and Chappell then corrected his headline and opening paragraph. Unfortunately, the public never sees the corrected version of a story as the story has already been squeezed out by the following day's news.)

From 2019 to 2020, global consumption of the combination of solar and wind energy increased by about 1000 TWh. During that time, total global energy consumption increased by 2100 TWh, meaning we actually slipped backwards by 1100 TWh in our quest to power the world with wind and solar.

It's hard to sell the public on the notion that we're up and running on solar and wind if we actually give them the preceding information. A much better sell is to say that energy from renewables has jumped 45 percent in one year without providing information on actual solar+wind energy contribution to our consumption, which went from 3.08 percent to 3.59 percent. (See note 1 at bottom of page.)

Chappell's headline is seriously erroneous and seriously misleading in three ways. His overall presentation is seriously erroneous and seriously misleading in several ways.

The story makes no mention of capacity factors, the relationship between intermittency and demand fluctuation, or battery energy storage issues associated with wind and solar projects. In keeping with the "unprecedented boom" proclamation of the opening sentence, it goes on to spew out "gee whiz" raw numbers regarding the number of houses that can be powered by this or that new wind farm installation, even though these are actually mere drops in the bucket:

Chappell cites the new 2.8 billion dollar 800 MW capacity off-shore wind turbine project.

He does not mention any of the following:

With the typical 0.33 capacity factor, this yields 264 MW generated power. With a future (very optimistically) 0.6 buffering factor (mismatches between power generation and hour by hour demand, what irregularities the power grid can accomodate in the absence of fossil fuel or nuclear power generation, energy lost during battery storage, and the energy cost of the buffering batteries themselves), this yields 158 MW power consumption. U.S. average total power consumption is 2,400,000 MW.

Thus that off-shore installation will provide for no more than 1/15000 of U.S. energy. The range is likely between 1/30000 and 1/15000. Thus we would need between 15,000 and 30,000 of those gee-whiz wind turbine projects.

15000 x 2.8 billion dollars = 42 trillion dollars.

And that doesn't take into account the enormous expansion of the electric grid entailed by using solar and wind energy.

About 20 percent of U.S. energy goes into transportation, and electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines; but there are other considerations, mentioned below, that offset that savings.

If the world were to build solar and wind installations at double our current higher rate, then we'd be to the point where we are neither gaining nor losing ground regarding changing the rate of CO2 emissions.

But that is only if one ignores the CO2 emissions resulting from the manufacture, installation, maintenance, replacement and recycling of the wind turbine and solar panel parts. One would also need to ignore the environmental impact of the manufacturing and replacement of storage batteries, and as mentioned, the enormous expansion of the electric grid.

Wind turbine energy requires eleven times as much concrete and five times as much steel per watt hour as nuclear energy. The blades themselves, a composite material, need periodic replacing, as do storage batteries. Wind energy is a much higher maintenance source of energy than nuclear.

So in actuality, it's unlikely we could ever reach the point where we're slowing the rate of CO2 emissions. And remember, what actually needs to happen is to bring the CO2 emissions to approximately zero -- not merely slow the rate of those emissions. Meanwhile, we'll have utterly decimated the rural and wilderness countryside with wind farms, both in the visual and audio sense; and not only for ourselves, but also for all the wildlife.

Capacity, generation and consumption are three different quantities, in descending order. Consumption is the bottom line for any analysis.

In the images below, capacity factors, the relationship between intermittency and demand fluctuation, and energy storage issues are taken into account. The images are in regard to total energy consumption, and show the amount of required land space.

Due to the intermittent output of solar and wind installations, we would need to triple the number of electrical transmission towers and lines if we were to rely mostly on solar and wind energy as mere replacements for coal fired electricity generation. To use solar and wind for all of U.S. energy, the number of towers and transmission lines would need to be multiplied many times over.

There is no intermittency issue with nuclear energy, and therefore far fewer transmission lines would be needed. Also, they automatically power up and down, meaning they self-buffer without the need for battery or fossil fuel backup.

It's not remotely possible to achieve any of the three scenarios depicted in the first three images below. This is due to both lack of raw materials and available space. If we could achieve such scenarios, the cost would be tens of trillions of dollars with any one of the three scenarios.

Hydro power should be considered to be beyond maxed out. We've already destroyed too many river valley environments. Currently, hydro power accounts for about 3 to 4 percent of global consumed energy.

Safe, clean, Thorcon nuclear reactors can supply energy more cheaply than coal, solar PV or wind; and with just a tiny fraction of the land footprint, raw materials and waste product. And they are silent.

However.. without an immediate and drastic reduction in world energy consumption, the likelihood of meeting the 2015 Paris Climate Accord goal is small even if we were to rely almost exclusively on nuclear power. We'll not build them fast enough.

Without relying almost exclusively on nuclear power, there is not the remotest possibility of meeting the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.

The images below show the land area required to meet the total energy needs of the United States with wind farms and solar arrays:

Note 1. The 3.08 percent (2019) and 3.59 percent (2020) contribution of combined wind & solar is illusory, in that our coal and nuclear plants are able to buffer up and down as needed to somewhat accomodate the unpredictable fluctuation of wind and solar power output. In other words, coal and nuclear plants are making the contribution of solar and wind appear better than it actually is. Without nuclear or coal power plants to provide this buffering effect, the contribution from wind and solar would be roughly half of what it is.

Note 2. Passive geothermal heating and cooling could eventually become significant, whereas ethanol has no chance of that. Every time you fill your tank with ethanol, you are contributing to global warming more than you would by filling up with pure gasoline. About as much carbon is released in the process of making ethanol as what is saved by burning ethanol instead of pure gasoline. And the land used for growing this damaging fuel is never allowed to capture carbon properly, as it would if it were left in a natural state or used for traditional farming and allowed to recover periodically. Ethanol exists only as an attempt by non-analytical and/or opportunistic politicians to win votes by claiming it would set us free from reliance on foreign oil. The false ecological pitch was part of the misrepresentation, and big business seized the opportunity to get rich from the government subsidy. - R.L. 04/15/2019

Roger Luebeck
May 13 2021