On the surface, the Green New Deal (GND) sounds enlightening.  Use a nonexistent super grid of renewable intermittent electricity energy to replace fossil fuels so we can all breath air with no emissions from energy production. But the renewable term in all these cases is not energy in its totality, but just “electricity”. Wind and solar farms can only produce electricity, and even that is intermittent, as we need the wind to blow or the sun to shine, or both continually as far north as Oslo and as far south as Christchurch.

With a few facts noted below, you decide, but it appears to be a given that electricity alone to run the world is not going to happen. Electricity has its limitations about being able to energize (no pun intended) the societies around the world to support worldwide transportation which is the basis of international commerce.

Let’s take a closer look at a few deficiencies of intermittent renewable electricity from wind turbines and solar panels as its obvious that any “super grid” of electricity will be unable to support the two prime movers that have done more for the cause of globalization than any other: the diesel engine and the jet turbine, both of which get their fuels from oil.

Since we’ve come a long way from those horse and buggy days just a few centuries ago, let’s take a look at a few facts about the industries that are increasing, NOT decreasing, their needs for deep earth minerals/fuels to “make products and move things” each year. You can then decide if the GND is the magic solution to save the world.

  • VEHICLES to move people around the world:

    • Today, there are 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads with projections of 2 billion by 2035. By some estimates, the total number of vehicles worldwide could double to 2.5 billion by 2050.

    • Registration of electric vehicles is projected to only be in the single digits, around 5 to 7 percent. If projections come to reality by 2035, 5 to 7 percent of the 2 billion vehicles would equate to 125 million EV’s on the world’s roads. The bad news is that would also represent more than 125 BILLION pounds of lithium-ion batteries that will need to be disposed of in the decades ahead.

  • MILITARY needs around the world are increasing in every country, each year:

    • Military needs to move ships, planes, tanks and armor, trucks, troop carriers, weaponry, supplies and anything else needed to assault and occupy nations is increasing each year.

  •  SPACE travel and exploration:

    • The world’s participation in the space program, is increasing each year.  The Saturn V rocket was 363 feet tall and weighed 6.2 million pounds, the weight of about 400 elephants.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the world energy growth projected through 2040 reflects the populations of India and China joining an energy society that continues to decrease its coal usage and increase its use of electricity from nuclear and from renewables of wind and solar. This new energy society of developing countries has yet to find an energy replacement for petroleum and natural gas. As populations grow the world’s fossil fuel needs continue to increase, albeit slowly, along with their expanding economies and improved lifestyles. The EIA also reports that Nuclear Power Will Be Needed to Meet Climate Goals.

The Green New Deal's epic transportation and commerce fail

The above graph from the EIA illustrates that electricity alone is unable to support the energy demands of the military, airlines, merchant ships, cruise ships, supertankers, and trucking infrastructures.

Let’s also take a look at the softer side of our lifestyles, other than transportation, as pretty much everything produced by man either includes or requires petroleum products. Even if you go out of your way to avoid petrochemicals that are included in products directly, there’s still manufacturing machinery lubricants, plastic packaging, transport fuels, chemical fertilizers, asphalt on roads, and thousands of other things you would never think of but can hardly live without. The evidence appears to illustrate that electricity cannot replace the products from the deep earth minerals/fuels that are the basis of today’s civilization and lifestyles.

Granted we need to continue to pursue greater efficiencies and conservation in our daily lives. While we in the developed countries with thriving economies continue to seek out an “alternative energy” that can maintain our lifestyles, the billions of people in undeveloped countries are starting to enhance their lifestyles with the most abundant and cost-effective energy source available to them today; coal. China, India, and Africa are using, planning and building thousands of the dirtiest, coal-fired power plants in the world to provide electricity to billions in their developing countries.

As those billions in developing countries rise out of poverty and develop modern economies, maybe, by then we’ll have a better grasp on a real alternative to those deep earth minerals/fuels that a super grid of renewable intermittent electricity cannot facilitate.

Author

  • Ron Stein is an engineer who, drawing upon 25 years of project management and business development experience, launched PTS Advance in 1995. He is an author, engineer, and energy expert who writes frequently on issues of energy and economics.