Reality will trump narratives on the road to energy transition


A reader asked me in an email last week why I am so opposed to renewables and electric vehicles? His question stems from his reading of the article I wrote here a few days ago about a company that is developing technology that has the potential to speed up and increase the production of lithium, one of the many minerals. essentials that the world will need much more. in the years to come if the “energy transition” is really to take place.

I researched and published a series of articles in 2021, featuring several companies working to solve this piece of the renewable energy / electric vehicle puzzle. These sectors of our energy mix rely on these minerals, which are essential for the production of lithium / ion batteries which are an integral part of their growth trajectory for the future. Since these stories all took a relatively positive outlook, the question surprised me a little at first. But then a piece of each of those stories contrasted the realities these different companies face against the energy transition narratives currently prevalent among various governments in the United States and around the world, as well as much of it. media talking about it.

For example: US President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order spelling out his goal that 50% of US automobiles manufactured by 2030 – in just 9 years – will be electric vehicles. Wait, it’s not 9 years, it’s just 8, since the 2030 car models will start to be introduced in September 2029, unless Ford, GM, Chrysler and everyone else change their traditional marketing strategies.

This is the story. This is the reality: According to the International Energy Agency, meeting this ambitious goal, along with other Biden goals related to a vast expansion of renewables in power generation, would increase demand for lithium and electricity. other critical minerals up to 1000%.

If this seems like a huge increase in such a short time, it’s only because it is. A CEO of a tungsten mining company I interviewed told me that it takes 7-10 years to license and start operations in a typical tungsten mine.

His company’s mine is in South Korea: in the US, obsessed with NIMBY, it can take even longer. A US-based antimony mining company I described has been working for 7 years just to get a federal permit under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a process it doesn’t expect to complete. before 2022. Once this is done, the company will then spend several more years securing a range of national and local permits in time to meet its current target of a first production date of 2027.

Obviously, these reality-based timelines don’t fit the ambitious narrative. Biden and the Congressional Democrats seem to believe they can just put a few hundred billion dollars in their $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to provide subsidies to the renewable energy and electric vehicle sectors and so on. will magically speed up. But the real world doesn’t work that way.

If so, a report released last week by Biden’s own Energy Information Administration (EIA) would not have found that, despite all the hundreds of billions federal and state governments have spent to subsidize renewable energy and electric vehicles during this century, the total amount of large-scale storage batteries for renewable energy across the country at the end of 2020 amounted to only 1,650 MW of storage capacity, from of which 1,022 MW of real electricity can be supplied for several hours. In contrast, the Samuel K. Seymour Fayette Power Project, one of a few dozen coal-fired power plants still in operation in Texas, can generate 1,615 MW of electricity, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Obviously, just spending a lot of money doesn’t change the way things actually work in the real world, regardless of what the narrative says.

I am not opposed to renewables or EVs. I am all for them and their continued development. If I had $ 100,000 sitting down and thought there were enough high speed charging stations scattered around my town and the rest of Texas, I might even go out and buy a Tesla.

TSLA
because I think they are great automobiles.

But guess what I discovered on a recent trip to Austin while riding with a Tesla owner who had a low charge? In Austin, a large city of 2 million people that happens to be Elon Musk’s hometown and is home to a huge Tesla Operation, there are currently only 3 high-speed EV charging stations today. Seems like a pretty big oversight, doesn’t it? If I had advised Mr. Musk, I think I would have advised him to use some of his personal wealth to get ahead of this particular demand curve.

But that’s the way it is in the real world. Regardless of how hard policymakers and governments attempt to intervene in markets to determine winners and losers in the energy space, supply will follow demand, not drive it. Right now, consumers are demanding an acceleration in renewables and electric vehicles, so we can expect these sectors to expand more rapidly in the years to come, but only to the extent that reality allows.

But, as the German government has discovered the hard way, such storytelling-driven public demand only survives until the public is faced with how much it is going to cost them, and more specifically, how much they are going to have to. sacrifice themselves in their personal lives to make this all happen.

On this last point, readers should take a moment to consider a new report published by European researchers, led by Jefim Vogel, a sustainability researcher at the University of Leeds. In this study, titled “Socio-economic conditions for meeting low-energy human needs: an international analysis of social supply”, the authors postulate that the climate objectives defined by the IPCC, the Paris Agreements and other international organizations cannot be reached. by the simple expansion of renewable energies and EVs only.

The authors find that achieving these goals will further require a harsh “social supply” – a milder term for “forced government rationing” – of living space (a family of 4 should have no more than 640 square feet), energy consumption (no more than the Bolivian average currently uses, or around 7,500 kWh per person), and transportation. They propose that the transport miles for each person should not be limited to more than 3,000 to 10,000 miles per year, which will certainly significantly hamper the use of private jets of all participants in the various global climate conferences. ” every year. (No, I’m not against private jets either.)

If you want to know how many props of the energy transition narrative want your real world to work, this study provides some fascinating insight. Interestingly, the authors do not appear to have addressed how governments in the developed world should deal with the massive social unrest that will inevitably arise when they attempt to impose such limitations on their citizens.

Because that’s also how the real world works.

So, I don’t like renewables and EVs. They are great sources of energy and transportation whose technologies look set to improve dramatically in the years to come, and they will play an important role in our energy and transportation future. What they can’t do, however, is change the way the real world works, no matter how aggressively policymakers step in to help them.

About Christopher Easley

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