The Dangers of Extremist Energy Ideology and Self-Delusion

natural gas boats - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

 

A Tweet, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and an article in the Scottish press illustrate the dangers of extremist energy ideology.

Folks obsessed with Twitter love to use it to pick fights and a couple of weeks ago some Aussie who apparently wants to be known as the down-under Josh Fox or “Frackman,” targeted a few tweets at me. We had a couple of exchanges regarding property values near fracking sites, which ended with him referring me to a YouTube video of himself on Aussie television, which I ignored.

He apparently wasn’t happy being ignored, so he subsequently posted a Tweet that did catch my attention, one falsely alleging “renewables now at 25% of global electricity generation” and linking to an IEA report as his evidence. This was a deliberate distortion of the facts and I called him out on it. But, why are these folks so determined to engage in such self-delusion? Well, it’s their extremist energy ideology. It doesn’t allow for facts.

Here’s the Tweet from Dayne Pratzky:

extremist energy ideology

The Tweet distorts the facts in two ways. First, the chart on the bottom left shows changes in electricity generation, not generation itself. Secondly, both charts include hydroelectric in renewables, The IEA report to which Pratzky refers notes the following, in fact:

Despite strong increases in wind and solar PV generation, hydropower remains the largest source by far of renewables-based electricity generation, with a major share of 65% in overall renewables output.

So, it isn’t solar and wind that’s giving us renewable energy but big dams (mostly in China where political opinion doesn’t matter) and there are only so many of those we can develop and even fewer that are politically acceptable anywhere but China.

More proof of what’s really happening is provided by this IEA report. Check out this chart, which shows the sources of the world’s primary energy supply:

extremist energy ideology

World total primary energy supply by fuel, from 1971 to 2015, in million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe)

Notice there is no category for renewables, although biofuels (e.g., wood) and waste have their own category, as does hydro. That hydro is barely visible as is the “other” category, which includes all the geothermal, solar, wind, tidal and other renewable sources. They are basically invisible on the chart, their contribution being so insignificant.

Now, look at electricity generation:

extremist energy ideology

Once again, non-hydro (which includes energy from wastes) is minimal, although growing. Fossil fuels are dominant. But, look at the changes:

extremist energy ideology

Non-hydro renewables and waste accounted for 7.1% in 2015, up from only 0.6% in 1973, an increase of 1,685 TWh, which is impressive. But, natural gas grew from 12.1% in 1973 to 22.9% in 2015, a gain of 4,812 TWh, which gain in natural gas produced electricity happens to be 2.8 times all the electricity generated from renewables.

But, this isn’t what’s really important. No, what’s far more critical is having power when it’s needed, which demands dispatchability—something that never enters into the thinking of true believers in extremist energy ideology. This takes to a brilliant article in The Scotsman by Brian Monteith, editor of ThinkScotland.org. Here are the key excerpts (emphasis added):

For the last year or so my friends in the Scientific Alliance have been publishing articles to try and draw attention to the threat of what the public would call electricity black-outs. The facts about us relying upon unreliable generation and the importation of foreign-sourced fuels are there for all to see, but ministers and politicians, of any colour and in any parliament have studiously turned a blind eye to the challenge facing them…

My concern is simply about solving an engineering problem; when the right type of wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine how are we to ensure that we have sufficient electrical power available to put our lights on, run our hospitals, schools and industries – and boil our kettles? That’s before we even begin to consider providing power to charge up the batteries of millions of electric cars.

As I write, wind is providing 23 per cent of UK power generation, solar 0 per cent, biomass 4.7 per cent and hydro 1.1 per cent. To meet our needs we are therefore drawing upon 15.8 per cent nuclear, 17.4 per cent coal, 30.5 per cent gas and import 5.3 per cent power generation. I am not concerned here about the economics of different sources of electricity. Nor does it matter that we are now able to generate record levels of renewable power, what matters is that there is security of supply; that when the renewables are not able to produce the juice that we have the back-up available – and can call upon it quickly.

Engineer Paul Spare has pointed out to me that back on 10-11 January this year the combined efforts of all our wind turbines were producing between 1.0 -1.5 per cent of the power the country required. Worse still, during the peak demand at 9.30am on 11 January the wind contribution had dropped to only 0.6 per cent. These are not unusual circumstances. Back in mid-December at 10.50am on 12 December total power demand was 46,000MW but wind power was providing about only 3.0 per cent of that. With gas generation working flat-out, were it not for the coal station output being able to increase to 10,000MW, some 20.7 per cent of demand, we would have witnessed a breakdown in our power supplies.

Five years ago in the winter of 2013, for a period of five continuous days between 13 and 17 December, wind power generated between only 0.5 -3.0 per cent and coal came to our rescue then too. Indeed using data from non-partisan Gridwatch we can see that in a typical year wind output falls to less than 2.0 per cent of demand for about 25 days, yet we are constantly being lobbied to phase out coal-powered generation by 2025.

To supplement our supply of gas this year we have had to import it by tanker and 50 per cent of that has come from Russia. Supplying gas is a lucrative trade for Putin’s practically bankrupt state and it is in his interests that we buy gas from Russia and become reliant upon it as a source. Putin’s government does not rely upon standard practices of commercial marketing and competitive pricing to gain sales, but instead employs a clandestine social media campaign and the funding of opposition groups who demonise alternatives to Russian energy supplies to influence the market.

Read the whole thing here. It’s excellent in putting things in perspective. The main point, though is that solar and wind simply do not have the capacity to deliver energy exactly when needed. Therefore, dispatchable sources have to be available or the lights go out. We have to them whether they’re used regularly or not, which means renewables used for anything more than supplementing those dispatchable sources are largely a wasteful exercise that only distorts the system and raises costs to unaffordable levels.

This is the lesson of California, Germany and South Australia; extremist energy ideology is counterproductive. It also endangers security by creating dependence on a Russian dictator for energy. Moreover, if gas isn’t available as a dispatchable source of energy than the alternative is coal, which is far worse for the environment and human health.

The Aussie frackman trying to outfox Fox ought, therefore, might want to expand his horizons and visit parts of the IEA world he hasn’t bothered investigating. He might also want to consider talking with a fellow member of the once great British Empire from Scotland and learning something about the real world where extremist energy ideology doesn’t count for one watt of power.

 

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