I have previously compared the energy transition movement to a religion for some quite obvious reasons such as a special language and a set of prohibitions that, although not public, are hard to miss in the energy narrative. Some of these prohibitions are so strictly observed they have effectively become commandments.
Before I proceed, because I was recently criticised on LinkedIn for calling “thousands of researchers fanatics” I will make a point of noting in advance that I do not bundle scientists with bureaucrats and common—or uncommon as the case may be—activists. Some scientists are religious, others are not, just like ordinary people.
Another point I’d like to make in advance is that I have nothing but respect for people with religious beliefs who do not try to force these beliefs on others. I have the honour of knowing many such people and my life has only become better for it. With that said:
1. There is only one way to save the planet and it is by turning to renewable energy. The reason the planet needs to be saved is human activity. Human activity causes loss of biodiversity (fact), higher carbon dioxide emissions (fact) and these two have become an existential threat for humankind. Human activity is the most devastating thing on this planet and of all human activity, the production and use of fossil fuels is the most devastating one. And let’s forget about the five mass extinction events that took place without an ounce of input from the human oil and gas industry.
2. There are no disadvantages to renewable energy.
Wind, solar, tidal power, green hydrogen, battery storage are our only future if we want to make it until the end of the century — or, according to younger disciples, if we are to make it in the next 10-20 years — and there are no disadvantages to any of these energy sources/energy carriers. They are flawless.
3. Thou shalt not speak of energy conversion ratios.
According to a website called Clean Energy Reviews, the most efficient photovoltaic panel last year had an efficiency ratio of 22.8%. That’s the percentage of light that solar panels convert into electrical energy. The least efficient one had a ratio of 21%. Interestingly enough, according to Empire Cat’s renewable energy website, the average efficiency of a solar panel is a lot lower, at 11-15%.
Of course, the company notes that despite looking low, the range is actually quite sufficient for satisfying the energy needs of households and industrial users. In case you wondered why a MW of solar power requires between 4 and 7 acres of land (16,187-28,300 sq m), that’s why, among other things.
In all fairness, the efficiency factor for coal is not much higher at between 35 and 40%, with gas boasting a 45% conversion rate and oil producing 38% energy conversion. The data is from 2010 and since then efficiency must have improved with better turbines, for example, but it seems that no energy source can make it even close to 50% efficiency*.
*Wind power is trickier because the energy output depends very much on wind speeds. Wind mills themselves can have pretty high energy conversion ratios but with no wind this becomes irrelevant.
4. Thou shalt not question the economics of green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is produced through hydrolysis — the breakup of water into its constituent parts — powered by electricity produced by solar panels or wind turbines. The process clearly requires massive amounts of water and that water needs to be purified. As a result, green hydrogen is considerably more expensive than the “dirtier” types, at $5 per kg, according to the U.S. Energy Department and between $3 and $6.55 per kg, according to the EU.
Of course, in the past few months, blue hydrogen, which is produced from natural gas, became more expensive than green hydrogen but that obviously had nothing to do with technology advancements in the latter. It had everything to do with European spot market gas prices. As I’ve noted before, that may be the only way to make green hydrogen commercially viable — by making its alternatives more expensive.
5. Words mean whatever you want them to mean.
A Canadian doctor last year became the first one to diagnose a patient with “climate change”. The patient had diabetes and asthma, and also severe dehydration amid a heat wave combined with wildfires in British Columbia. Apparently, the heat wave prompted the doctor to identify climate change as the underlying cause of the patient’s condition. The NBC News report on the news cited a “new trend in healthcare”.
Germany this week welcomed a EU plan to classify some natural gas power plants as sustainable but opposed the classification of some nuclear plants as sustainable. Here is a quote from the Reuters report because I had trouble believing this at first as well:
“For the German government, natural gas is an important bridging technology on the way to greenhouse gas neutrality against the background of the phase-out of nuclear energy and coal-fired power generation.
“The government’s position on nuclear energy remains unchanged. The government remains convinced that nuclear power cannot be classified as sustainable.”
And now for the fun facts about sustainability and clean energy:
1. According to the IMF, the energy transition will require some 3 billion tonnes of metals and minerals.
2. Metals and minerals are as finite as oil and gas, and ore grades have fallen considerably over the past few decades as demand has grown along with global human population and wealth. But here’s the best part: with declining ore grades, the energy intensity of mining has been on the rise. Put plainly, you now need more energy to extract less metal-bearing ores.
3. Recycling is not a solution. Steel, copper, and aluminium are all fully recyclable but first, there isn’t enough of them to recycle to an extent that would make a meaningful dent in demand and second, let’s not forget that recycling is a business that needs to make a profit. Also, recycling generates emissions.
4. Current mining technology is such that mining the metals and minerals we need to get to net-zero will generate more emissions than it will eliminate by providing the supply of materials necessary for a wind-and-solar-based energy system.
5. “The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.” Terry Pratchett. Unlike words, material reality is not particularly flexible. And nature always makes us pay for our mistakes.