Could we turn off coal, nuclear and gas and just go with wind, solar and hydro, tomorrow?
What would happen? It reminds me of the solar storm that almost wiped out all power in 2012 (due to a CME, or “coronal mass ejection,” which is not a protest against lockdowns).
If we turned off all coal, nuclear & gas then 84% of power would be gone as a world-wide average. Power would be concentrated in areas with wind, solar and hydro. California, Arizona and New Mexico have abundant solar potential (over 5.38 peak sun hours), New York has some of the least solar radiance (3.79 peak sun hours). France has a potential of 18% power, or less without biomass (which some say is “renewable but not green”). Greece about 12%.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1.1 billion people have less energy access than Argentina’s 44 million. As a whole, Africa would lose 50% power, but with most hydro concentrated in a few countries and many would lose over 90% power, not that they had so much to begin with. To give some scale, Iceland has per capita 50,000 kWh electricity consumption. U.S. has 11,000. Zimbabwe has 489.
Assuming that the wind blows, sun shines, rivers run and the power stations and grid were still operable (not the case in a solar storm’s CME), would we share equally this 10-20% energy? Who would get hit the hardest?
Back to “real life,” we have a California governor phasing out small gas engines (lawnmowers, leaf blowers, etc.) for landscapers, to be replaced by electric, even banning new internal-combustion-engine car sales by 2035. The cheapest EV car is a Mini at $30,000 with a range of 116 miles, vs Chevy Spark (not an EV, despite the name) at $13,000, with a range of about 300 miles.
In real life, people buy SUVs, get themselves to work, put food on the table and pay to keep electricity on and gas to keep their family warm. There will be some who can buy a $50,000+ full-size EV SUV, but those same people won’t be worried too much about increases in electricity bills that do concern the majority of people.
In real life, a billion people don’t have access to electricity at all.
I think it’s a safe assumption most people, regardless of ideology, care about the planet. Yet faced with keeping their family warm or choosing to use fossil fuels, what would you do? Was Angela Merkel (net worth $11.5 Million) affected much by gas prices this winter? What would have been different if she had kept open or even increased capacity from their 17 nuclear power plants (3 remaining, to be closed in 2022)? What did happen to their energy mix and emissions?
Many have surmised it was political expedience that led to Merkel’s decision to abandon nuclear power. Some accused 2000 presidential candidate and narrator of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore of ulterior motives, saying he was on track to become the first “carbon billionaire.” He hasn’t yet, but his net worth has ballooned from $1.3 to $350 million. Yet, his inspiration caused it in others, his money was made mostly in Apple stock and selling stakes in a TV station which became Al Jazeera. But, yes, people are making tons of money off carbon and renewables. I hate to say it, but it’s not all sweetness and light. Some people are in it for the money, and $100 billion in U.S. government subsidies in the last 10 years is quite the encouragement.
So where is sensible planning in all of this? There’s an old saying, “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” There are great ideas for the future, such as hydrogen, small modular reactors, refined solar, wind, and other renewable energy technologies. There is carbon capture from natural gas, afforestation, reforestation and even seaweed carbon sequestration. And yes, fossil fuel energy consumption has become cleaner, too. Certainly, this is true in the U.S. with emissions steadily down since 2005.
We’ve gotten this far by incessant technological advance, with thanks in no small part to abundant, affordable energy. And that is the point. When people have pulled themselves out of poverty toward abundance, they want to help, both others and the planet. Sensible policies which do not penalize everyone will help them do that.
Working at RBAC, I found broad agreement in the goals to help energy companies, consultants, regulators make good decisions, which in turn makes affordable energy and broadens energy access.
So perhaps a better question would be, “What would it take to make energy available to the billion who don’t have it?”