The relentless march in the direction of zero carbon emissions (not!) – dealing with it?


June 17, 2021 / Francis Menton

As we all know, the most important task in the world right now is to eliminate CO2 emissions from energy consumption in order to save the planet from the existential crisis of climate change.

The world began with this task in the 1980s and 1990s, with the establishment of the IPCC (1988), the publication of the First (1990) and Second (1996) IPCC Assessment Reports on Climate and the signing of the Kyoto Protocol (1997 ) to reduce emissions. And then, after 2000, things got really serious. In 2005 the Kyoto Protocol officially came into force. It was in June 2008 that Barack Obama promised (in his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for President) that this would be the moment “when the rise of the oceans slowed and our planet began to heal … “). Two years later, in 2010, Germany passed a law to formalize its energy transition program to replace fossil fuels with “renewable” ones.

So to this day, the US and Europe have been working hard for well over a decade to get rid of fossil fuels and replace them with “renewable” energies such as wind and solar. It is time for a testimony of how things are going.

Fortunately, there is an organization called REN21: Renewables Now that has set itself the task of tracking and reporting on progress in converting global energy consumption to renewable energies. This organization just (June 15th) published its Renewables Global Status Report. Chapter 1 of the report, the Global Overview, can be found here. This report does the hard work of rounding up global energy use from all sources to give us an overall picture of how the fossil fuel replacement campaign is progressing.

First the “good” news: (from the global overview):

  • [R]Renewable energies saw record growth in new electricity capacity globally in 2020 and were the only source of electricity generation that saw a net increase in total capacity.
  • Renewable energies achieved their highest share of the global electricity mix in 2020 – an estimated 29% – mainly due to low operating costs and preferred access to electricity grids in times of low electricity demand.
  • [M]More than 256 gigawatts (GW) of renewable electricity capacity were added globally during the year, surpassing the previous record by almost 30%.
  • The costs of generating electricity from wind and solar energy have fallen significantly in recent years. In 2020, the global weighted average electricity generation costs from photovoltaics (PV) on a utility scale decreased by 85% since 2010, while the cost of onshore wind energy decreased by 56% over the same period. . . . These declines mean that generating electricity from new renewable energies is cheaper for the majority of the world’s population than from new coal-fired power plants.

Wow, that sounds great. Then the evil fossil fuels are certainly well on their way to being forgotten.

Not that much, actually. First, here is a selection of some of the obstacles that just don’t seem to go away:

  • “[I]Innovations are still required to enable the widespread adoption of renewable energies in sectors that are harder to decarbonise, such as energy-intensive industrial processes and long-distance transport. ”The phrase“ innovation is still needed ”means that, to this day, no one has any idea how to do that. Steel mills and semi-trailers and planes that run on solar panels? Does not happen.
  • “Another important reason for the low prevalence of renewable energies is the persistent lack of support measures and the enforcement of guidelines, especially in the transport and heating and cooling sectors. . . . Targets have also been met and set more often for the power sector than for heating and cooling or transport. ”I think these people really believe that if governments just do the right thing and require planes to run on solar panels, it will happen immediately . Regarding the call on people to stop using natural gas for heating and cooking at home, one order attempt in the UK was reversed in less than 24 hours after the public backlash.
  • In many countries, investments in new fossil fuel production and related infrastructure continued. While some countries phased out coal, others invested in new coal-fired power plants at home and abroad. . . . [B]At the end of the year, a sharp increase in new coal capacities in China offset the global closures, resulting in the first annual increase in global coal capacities since 2015. As in previous years, public finances from China financed by far the largest share of coal capacities in others, followed by funds from Japan, the Republic of Korea, France, Germany and India, which went almost exclusively to developing and emerging countries.

And that’s just an excerpt from what happened in 2020. The report then contains this summary of the developments in the so-called total final energy consumption in the ten-year period 2009-2019:

Whoa! Over that ten year period, fossil fuels fell from 80.3% to 80.2% of the TFEC. The share of so-called “modern renewable energies” (wind, solar, biomass (ie wood chips), geothermal energy, ocean energy, hydropower) increased slightly from 8.7% to 11.2% of the TFEC, but that seems to have been the case for the most part its at the expense of the barely mentioned “non-modern renewables”, probably mostly animal manure. The share of fossil fuels in the total volume decreased, but was at a barely perceptible 0.1%. As developing countries quickly join the modern energy-based economy, total fossil fuel consumption has increased dramatically – from around 260 exajoules in 2009 to around 310 exajoules in 2019. That is an increase of just under 20% over the decade where I thought we should reduce usage quickly and actually get the world on the path to getting rid of these things completely.

Reuters covered the REN21 report on June 14 in an article titled “Global Use of Fossil Fuels Similar to Ten Years Ago in Energy Mix, the report says.” You quote Rana Adib, Executive Director of REN21:

“We are waking up to the bitter reality that the promises made in climate policy over the past ten years have mostly been empty words,” said Rana Adib, Managing Director of REN21. “The share of fossil fuels in final energy consumption has not changed an inch,” she added.

I have news for Rana: eliminating fossil fuels and even reducing their consumption is not going to happen. Fossil fuels are cheap and they work. Your claim that “generating electricity from new renewable energies is cheaper than new coal-fired power plants” is just delusional because you ignore the enormous cost of disrupting renewable energies. Nobody is going to buy this renewable energy except through huge government subsidies. According to America’s Power (trade association for the coal industry), the US alone spent around $ 82 billion to subsidize renewable energies in the period 2010-18 alone – and all of that barely moved the needle.

Read the full article at the source here.

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