The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shocked the world with its forecast of glaciers melting, rising oceans, flooded cities and widespread starvation. Now it has issued a stunning report on the difficulties of creating renewable energy. It is a killer for the Obama administration’s wildly optimistic promise of a future world of renewable energies.
The 1,000-page IPCC report presents an assessment of the scientific, technical, environmental, economic, and social aspects of the contributions of six renewable energy (RE) sources to the mitigation of climate change.
“Increasing the share of RE in the energy mix will require policies to simulate changes in the energy system. Their share is projected to increase substantially under most ambitious mitigation scenarios,” said the report. But additional policies would be required to attract the necessary increases in investment in technologies and infrastructure.
More billions in federal subsidies, for instance? The Obama administration has spend at least $70 billion so far on subsidies for renewable energies of one kind or another.
On a global basis, it was estimated that RE accounted for 12.9 percent of the total primary energy supply in 2008. The largest contributor was biomass (10.2 percent) with the majority of it being used in cooking and heating in developing countries. Hydropower represented 2.3 percent. Other RE sources accounted for only 0.4 percent. Solar power was 0.1 percent, wind energy was said to be a bare 0.2 percent of energy produced worldwide.
Technical potentials indicate a limit to the contribution of some RE technologies. Factors such as “sustainability concerns, public acceptance, system integration, and infrastructure restraints or economic factors may also limit deployment of renewable energy technologies,” the report said. “The costs associated with RE integration, whether for electricity, heating, cooling, gaseous, or liquid fuels are “contextual, site-specific, and generally difficult to determine.” The number of people without access to modern energy services is expected to remain unchanged “unless relevant domestic policies are implemented, which may be supported…by international assistance as appropriate.”
Bioenergy can be produced from a variety of biomass feedstocks, including livestock residue, energy crops, and organic waste systems. “Advanced biomass integrated gasification combined-cycle power plants and lignocellulose-based transport fuels are examples of technologies that are at pre-commercial stage, while liquid fuel from algae and some other biological conversion approaches are at the research and development (R&D) phase.”
Direct solar energy technologies “harness the energy of solar irradiance to produce electricity for photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) to produce thermal energy, to meet direct lighting needs, and potentially, to produce fuels that might be used for transport and other purposes…. Solar energy is variable and, to some degree, unpredictable.”
Geothermal energy uses energy from the earth’s interior. Fluids of various temperatures can be used to generate electricity. Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) are in the demonstration and pilot stage.
Hydropower harnesses the power of water moving from higher to lower elevations. Think of the Hoover Dam.
Ocean energy comes from the potential kinetic, thermal, and chemical energy of seawater, which can be transformed to produce electricity. These projects are at a pilot project phase.
Wind energy uses the kinetic energy of moving air to produce electricity from large wind turbines located on shore and at sea.
Wind is unpredictable. But many wind farms are successful. The problem is transmission lines connecting the turbines to the power plants.
The IPCC report indicated that renewables have the potential of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with the optimistic forecast that RE will become the dominant energy source by mid-century. This despite other forecasts that are nowhere near as optimistic.
Various scenarios, the IPCC report said, show a contribution from RE of in excess of 17 percent share of primary energy supply by 2030, rising to 27 percent by 2050. Various illustrative scenarios show a wide range of reduction in CO2. But the mitigation of CO2 potential depends on specific technologies, the report noted. “Therefore, attribution of precise mitigation potentials to RE should be viewed with appropriate caution.”
When the report got down to dollar estimates to provide the world with renewables, RE investments range from $1.3 trillion to $5.1 trillion, it stated.
In a paper written a year or so ago for the Centre for Research and Globalization, Dale Allen Pfeiffer examined the outlook for various forms of energy. Pfeiffer is a geologist and author of several books. He wrote:
Using photovoltaics, the U.S. would require 17 percent of the planet’s entire surface area, or 59 percent of the land surface (to produce enough solar energy) to replace its current daily oil consumption….While it may be wise to expand our usage of renewable resources, we cannot realistically expect them to replace hydrocarbons….we will be dependent upon oil and natural gas for…our energy needs.
So, no matter how high the hopes for solar and other renewables, dreamy politicians must be convinced that our main source of energy is, and will be, fossil fuels.
As Matt Ridley wrote in a May 21 Wall Street Journal article, “The wind may never stop blowing, but the wind industry depends on steel, concrete and rare-earth metals (for the turbine magnets) none of which are renewable.”
Assuming that our energy needs double in future decades, he wrote, “We would have to build 100 times as many wind farms as we have today in order to get even 10 percent of our energy from wind. And we’d soon run out of locations to put them.”
Ridley continued: “The hydrocarbons in the earth’s crust amount to more than 500,000 exajoules of energy. An exajoule equals nearly 100 trillion BTUs. There may be a millennium’s worth of hydrocarbons left.
The United States has more fossil fuels on shore and off shore than all the other countries in the world, if only we were allowed to tap them.