The high-speed drive to abandon fossil fuels is rocketing down a highway that leads to a canyon without a bridge to cross it. As the recent storms in Texas demonstrated, a single weather event can disrupt power generation capacity enough to leave thousands of homes and businesses without electrical power.
Much of the power outage in Texas is a result of failure to protect legacy power generating systems from the effects of frigid temperatures. However, outages would have been much more widespread, and would have lasted longer had the state been completely dependent on “sustainable” power generation. Yet that consideration is completely ignored by proponents of completely abandoning traditional forms of power generation.
When summer rolls around and temperatures soar, excessive power demand, instigated by unusually high use of air conditioners, also leads to power outages. Clearly, there is a shortfall of electrical power generating capacity. Yet in what will ultimately be a failed quest to achieve zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, environmental activists and politicians are pushing for houses, vehicles and commercial/industrial sites to be fully powered by electricity, some of which will be generated by unreliable sources.
Fossil Fuels – Zero emissions, smoke and mirrors
Capacity aside, claims of zero GHG emissions exist only behind a veil of smoke and mirrors. Consider electric vehicles. They are claimed to generate zero emissions. That’s true at the vehicle itself, but because the GHG emissions created in creating the electricity needed to charge their batteries are generated remotely. The majority of electric vehicle (EV) recharging stations are powered by electricity received from power generating facilities that burn natural gas or coal. Consider the accompanying photo of a battery recharging station powered by a diesel generator. Although there are relatively few of these, they are emblematic of the fairy tale that electric vehicles generate zero emissions. Consumption of electricity does not result in zero emissions unless it is generated exclusively by sources powered by nuclear, wind, hydroelectric, or solar energy.
That doesn’t mean EVs don’t provide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, only that their use does not result in zero emissions. Consequently, unless there are major changes in methods of electricity generation, or a shift to a different fuel source, the requirements imposed by state and local governments to achieve zero emissions by a specified date cannot be met.
Then there is the issue of having enough electrical power regardless of the mode of generation. As the situation in Texas illustrated, renewable generating sources sometimes aren’t. When the windmills freeze and snow, ice and clouds block the sun from reaching solar panels, electricity is generated by nuclear, hydro or fossil fuels- or it’s not generated at all. As reliance on renewable source of power generation increase, so does the number of people who will be without power when a crisis arises.
The impact of greenhouse gas emissions during manufacture is also a factor that interferes with the zero- emissions fairy tale having a happy ending. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Manufacturing a mid-sized EV with an 84-mile range results in about 15 percent more emissions than manufacturing an equivalent gasoline vehicle. For larger, longer-range EVs that travel more than 250 miles per charge, the manufacturing emissions can be as much as 68 percent higher.”
The concerned scientists also state that EVs make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within 18 months (or less) of driving. That’s largely because on a per mile basis, electricity generated by natural gas or coal-fired generating facilities emit less carbon dioxide than gasoline or diesel fuel. In areas where generation of electricity does not rely on the burning of fossil fuels, the payback is faster.
There’s no question that fossil fuels are on the way out, but there’s also no question that current alternatives, such as windmills and solar are not viable replacements. Complete elimination of fossil fuels and total reliance on non-GHG emitting energy sources won’t become achievable until new technology such as hydrogen fuel cells are perfected.
In the mean time, politicians seeking to demonstrate their environmental consciousness will continue to ignore reality and push for the perfect storm of power outages – ever greater consumption of electrical power and greater reliance on expensive, unreliable forms of power generation. Will anybody be able to read about the Green New Deal when the lights are out?
Featured photo: Screenshot of a fossil fuel helicopter as it rescues a frozen “green” wind turbine in Texas. Ironic.
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