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Just what we need

19 Jan 2022 | News Roundup

There is a persistent illusion in public policy that the reason governments have not delivered all the swell stuff they promised, at a price we can afford, is that they just haven’t tried hard enough. Sometimes it manifests itself as calls for more political will, or dark mutterings about vested interests. Other times it takes on a kind of technocratic bent and says we just haven’t found the right administrative configuration. For instance, Marc Morano of Climate Depot notes sardonically, “We’re Saved” because the Biden White House just Tweeted that “Today, 7 federal agencies are announcing clean energy projects and plans that will activate the entire government to fight climate change, lower energy costs, create good-paying, union jobs, and accelerate America’s clean energy economy.” Not just one pokey interdepartmental committee between a couple of agencies. No. We’re going to turn the whole dang US federal government into One Big Interdepartmental Committee and really harness the nimble efficiency of… um… uh…

That the US government might create lower energy costs is unlikely even if it were not committed to creating higher ones, deliberately to drive consumers away from fossil fuels and also accidentally because it thinks subsidies, in this case to renewables, lower costs rather than hiding them so they don’t encourage rational choices. But Ken Gregory calculates that to electrify the whole U.S. economy by substituting wind and solar generation for oil, gas and coal would cost far more than the $36.4 trillion estimated in a recent significant report. That figure is already nearly twice the annual output of the whole country, hardly chicken feed. Regrettably Gregory says the report drastically underestimates a number of factors, most particularly the number of batteries that would be needed, so the real cost would be more like $400 trillion. If so voters might notice, and object.

You can make the number go down by muttering “Abracadabra carbon capture”. Or “Abracadabra way better batteries”. Or “Abracadabra Interdepartmental Committee.” But only in the warm, dim, cozy confines of the séance. In the cold light of day, abracadabra is just rubbish syllables. And people whose plans hinge on basic math errors like thinking battery storage costs are 21 cents per kilowatt/hour when they’re really $29.18, or fantasies about new technologies becoming cost effective as soon as they get massive subsidies forever, or the magic power of massive bureaucracy, are going to find reality painful.

5 comments on “Just what we need”

  1. One problem (and only one of many) about battery power storage on a continental scale is the sheer amount of scarce elements (lithium, cobalt and so on) required to make all those batteries. Has anyone ever estimated the amount of such elements required for all these batteries and then compared the results to the recoverable amount that actually exists on Earth? No, I didn't think so. But it would be interesting to see the results if anyone ever did.

  2. The BBC calculated how many resources it would require to switch all 35mio. british cars from combustion engines to electric drive.
    There won't be even enough cobald, wolfram, lithium etc. for this "litle" project.
    That may gives you an idea, of how likely it is, that there is enough material for the whole US economy.

  3. Another problem with batteries is that they have to be charged up. They are not generators of power. Which means you will need twice as much "renewable" energy generation as peak demand: one to supply peak demand, and one to recharge the batteries for when the wind is blowing too hard and the sun isn't shining.

  4. Obviously they will get all those materials from Saturn, Pluto or the sun. We are just waiting for technology to catch up.

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