Power blackouts that rolled across California cities and towns during an August 13-14 heat wave offer a warning glimpse of much more dire consequences we can absolutely count on occurring with enactment of the Biden campaign’s “Build Back Better” proposal to immediately eliminate fracking on all public lands, and virtually eliminate fossil-fueled power plants over the next 15 years.
In concert with the aspirational Green New Deal co-sponsored by his running mate Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Biden’s plan calls for humongous expenditures in renewable energy, including installing 500 million solar panels and manufacturing 60,000 wind turbines.
Add to this that Biden proposes to have taxpayers finance a half-million electric car chargers across America – along with funding to help car makers convert their factories to electric vehicle (EV) production.
Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newson has now ordered his state to ban new gas vehicles by 2035 in order to weaponize its gigantic car market as a hammer to force automakers to concentrate on EVs.
All of this, of course, will shift even greater energy demand from petroleum to the electrical power sector. Producing and recharging those EVs will require that energy sufficiency is constantly available. That wasn’t the case when that August heatwave left millions of perspiring Californians in the dark as power demand outstripped supplies.
Now imagine adding several tens of thousands of EVs to drain further dwindling supplies of reliable energy. Not explained are any bright ideas regarding how to recharge all those power-hungry plug-ins on windless nights.
For a reality check, let’s first recognize that about 80 percent of all U.S. energy (always measured in BTUs) comes from fossil sources, with another 8.6 percent contributed by nuclear. Of that total U.S. energy amount, solar and wind combined presently contribute barely over three percent, with solar contributing less than 0.1 percent.
Even the best wind power and sunlight systems produce energy averaged over the year at 25%-30% of the time or less. By comparison, conventional natural gas plants have very high availability in the 80%-95% range, and often higher.
Wind and solar energy intermittency demand an equal amount of “spinning reserve” power typically provided by natural gas turbines that must be inefficiently throttled up and down like a car driving in stop-and-go traffic to balance the energy grid.
Any excess energy that is produced must either be dumped or stored for times when it will be useful – like, for example at night when large populations of EV owners will simultaneously wish to replenish their large power-thirsty batteries.
There’s also another big problem with producing those batteries.
China controls about 70% of the world’s lithium supply and 83% of the anodes to make them. And a lithium project that has been seeking approval to mine the material in a Nevada desert has been blocked from doing so for more than a decade by environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity.
Nevertheless, limited capacities and unreliability issues aside (and they are big ones), wasn’t that “green energy” still supposed to be environmentally clean?
Certainly not when we consider what goes into making those systems.
As reported by my friend Mark Mills at the Manhattan Institute, building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires, on average, more than 10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building equivalent systems using hydrocarbons to deliver the same amount of energy.
Consider the massive material requirements needed to replace a single 100-MW gas-fired turbine about the size of a typical residential house with at least 20 wind turbines, each about the size of the Washington Monument and covering about 10 square miles of land.
Wind and solar power also require huge amounts of more land and expansive transmission lines to deliver electricity from remote sites to high power demand metropolitan centers. Those long-distance power transfers also add significant transmission losses.
The wind alternative would consume about 30,000 tons of iron ore and 50,000 tons of concrete, as well as 900 tons of non-recyclable plastics for the huge blades. A solar plant with the same output – enough power to supply about 75,000 homes – would require half again more tonnage in cement, steel and glass.
Adding to that, also imagine periodically replacing a utility-scale battery storage system for that same 100-MW wind farm comprising at least 10,000 tons of Tesla-class batteries. Producing each of them requires mining, moving, and processing more than 500,000 pounds of materials using hydrocarbon-fueled equipment. This amounts to some 20 times more than the 25,000 pounds of petroleum that an internal combustion engine uses over the life of a car.
Applied for transportation, and averaged over a 1,000 pound EV battery life, imagine that each mile of driving an electric vehicle “consumes” about five pounds of earth moved by hydrocarbon powered devices, whereas a comparable petroleum-fueled vehicle only consumes about 0.2 pounds of liquids per mile.
Again, for comparison with hydrocarbons, it requires the energy equivalent of about 100 barrels of oil to fabricate a quantity of storage batteries that can store a single barrel of oil-equivalent energy. Put still another way, about 60 pounds of batteries are needed to store the energy equivalent to that in one pound of hydrocarbons.
Mark Mills reminds us that by 2050, with current plans, the quantity of worn-out, non-recyclable solar panels will double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste, along with over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastics from worn-out wind turbine blades.
By 2030, more than 10 million tons per year of batteries, including rare earth elements such as dysprosium they contain, will become landfill garbage.
As a 2017 World Bank study concludes, “Technologies assumed to populate the clean energy shift … are in fact significantly more material intensive in their composition than current traditional fossil-fuel-based energy supply systems.”
In addition, banning gasoline vehicles is going to cost California lots of funding needed for roads and public works, including the state’s bullet train to nowhere. The state currently collects about $8 billion in fuel taxes and $3 billion in cap-and trade revenues annually.
Getting to 100% electric by 2035 will require massively more money for subsidies to pay for those cars and an enormous vehicle-charging network to expand from a mere 6.2% of the auto market represented by EV sales last year.
Finally, as for wind, solar and EV’s eliminating either “carbon pollution” or climate change, don’t believe that for a moment. The only thing “green” about any of them will come from the pocketbooks of taxpayer subsidies and hiked-up energy cost consumers.