Renewable energy is cripplingly expensive, hopelessly unreliable, massacres wildlife, destroys landscapes, destabilises the grid, harms indigenous peoples, and causes climate change. But apart from that it’s great, says a meticulous review published in the scientific journal Energies by a team of Irish and U.S.-based researchers.
Actually, the part about renewable energy being ‘great’ is a joke but the rest is true. The scholarly review – Energy and Climate Policy – An Evaluation of Climate Change Expenditure 2011-2018 – is probably the most thorough meta-analysis published on the so-called ‘clean energy’ sector. Its conclusion, though neutrally expressed, could scarcely be more damning:
It will confirm all President Donald Trump’s worst suspicions about renewable ‘clean’ energy and about utopian projects like the Green New Deal. But it will make grim reading for Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Greta Thunberg, Al Gore, the Prince of Wales, David Attenborough, the Pope, Leo Di Caprio and the rest of the rag bag of public figures who have sought to burnish their caring, eco-friendly credentials by championing ‘renewable energy’ as the best way to save the planet.
In fact, the review authors demonstrate, renewables – mainly wind and solar – do little if anything to reduce carbon dioxide emissions but are very good at wasting eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money.
Concern for climate change is one of the drivers of new, transitional energy policies oriented towards economic growth and energy security, along with reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and preservation of biodiversity. Since 2010, the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) has been publishing annual Global Landscape of Climate Finance reports. According to these reports, US$3660 billion has been spent on global climate change projects over the period 2011–2018. Fifty-five percent of this expenditure has gone to wind and solar energy. According to world energy reports, the contribution of wind and solar to world energy consumption has increased from 0.5% to 3% over this period. Meanwhile, coal, oil, and gas continue to supply 85% of the world’s energy consumption, with hydroelectricity and nuclear providing most of the remainder.
The report’s leader author Coilín ÓhAiseadha puts this expenditure in context:
“It cost the world $2 trillion to increase the share of energy generated by solar and wind from half a percent to three percent, and it took eight years to do it. What would it cost to increase that to 100%? And how long would it take?”
According to the review, wind and solar are bad for a number of reasons – not least among them being the harm they do to the environment.
One of the rationales used for wind power is that it reduces man made climate change. But, in fact, the study shows, it actually causes climate change at a local level, changing wind patterns, temperatures, precipitation, even causing flash flooding.
In particular, recent years’ research has produced considerable theoretical and empirical evidence that wind turbines can have significant local or regional effects on climate. For example, Abbasi et al. (2016) explain that “large-scale wind farms with tall wind turbines can have an influence on the weather, possibly on climate, due to the combined effects of the wind velocity deficit they create, changes in the atmospheric turbulence pattern they cause, and landscape roughness they enhance”.
Green technologies are also incredibly resource-greedy. Part of the problem is their feeble ‘power density’ – which is the measurement of the amount of land required to produce a fixed amount of energy. By far the most power-dense form of energy is natural gas, followed by nuclear, oil and coal. Fossil fuels can produce large amounts of energy requiring little land. Renewables, by contrast, need huge amounts of land to produce relatively tiny quantities of energy. Fossil fuels produce on average about 1000 times more power for any given land surface area.
Renewables also require large quantities of minerals. Merely for the UK to fulfil Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s dream of making all cars in Britain electric by 2030 would, according to a group of experts led by Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum in London, require:
“…just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018 […] If we are to extrapolate this analysis to the currently projected estimate of 2 billion cars worldwide, based on 2018 figures, annual production would have to increase for neodymium and dysprosium by 70%, copper output would need to more than double and cobalt output would need to increase at least three and a half times for the entire period from now until 2050 to satisfy the demand”
This expansion in mining is likely to have serious adverse social and environmental impacts in the often impoverished countries where the rare minerals are found.
According to Medium:
Cobalt mining, required to make batteries for e-vehicles, has severe impacts on the health of women and children in mining communities, where the mining is often done in unregulated, small-scale, “artisanal” mines. Lithium extraction, also required for manufacturing batteries for e-vehicles, requires large quantities of water, and can cause pollution and shortages of fresh water for local communities.
As lead author, Coilín ÓhAiseadha, points out:
“There was worldwide coverage of the conflict between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline, but what about the impacts of cobalt mining on indigenous peoples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and what about the impacts of lithium extraction on the peoples of the Atacama Desert? Remember the slogan they chanted at Standing Rock? Mni Wiconi! Water is life! Well, that applies whether you’re Standing Rock Sioux worried about an oil spill polluting the river, or you’re in the Atacama Desert worried about lithium mining polluting your groundwater.”
Even if they were as virtuous as their advocates claim, renewable technologies are hopelessly inadequate to the task of powering modern Western Civilisation.
As co-author Dr Ronan Connolly says:
“The average household expects their fridges and freezers to run continuously and to be able to turn on and off the lights on demand. Wind and solar promoters need to start admitting that they are not capable of providing this type of continuous and on-demand electricity supply on a national scale that modern societies are used to.”
They also make poor people poorer by forcing them to use expensive ‘clean’ energy when fossil fuels would be much cheaper and more effective.
We suggest that even within developed nations, policies to reduce CO2 emissions similarly are often at odds with improving the livelihoods of the less affluent in society.For example, one policy tool which is often promoted as being potentially useful for reducing CO2 emissions is the implementation of “carbon taxes”. Carbon taxes can take many forms, but typically penalize the use of forms of energy that are associated with relatively high CO2 emissions. Researchers studying the socioeconomic implications of various carbon taxes in multiple countries have found that carbon taxes “tend to be regressive”, i.e., the burden tends to be greatest on the poorest households.
‘This is a very large allocation for two energy sources which have many disadvantages.’By James Delingpole