"Renewable" Energies, Capitalism, Climate Change, Climate Tipping Points, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Consumerism, Corporate State, Eco-Apocalypse, Ecological Overshoot, Embodied Energy Costs, Environmental Collapse, EROEI, Externalized Environmental Costs, Extinction of Man, Greenwashing, House on the Borderland, Inverted Totalitarianism, Kevin Moore, Mass Die Off, Nuclear Energy, Peak Oil, Pedro Prieto, Professor Charles Hall, Second Law of Thermodynamics, Solar Energy, Ted Trainer, William Hope Hodgson, Wind Energy
Clinging to the Status Quo
Through my experience on this website I’ve learned that the pro-fossil fuel/climate change skeptics share something in common with the pro-renewable energy/climate change realists. Neither wants industrial civilization to fade away. This is the fatal flaw shared by both – that industrial civilization with all its toxic trappings of materialism, instant gratification, and objectification of nature can continue with perhaps a few tweaks and modifications here and there. Nothing that the capitalist free market cannot correct, right? Others even fantasize with the idea that there will be some sort of a post-crisis prosperity. So-called “renewable energies” fit nicely into the greenwashing of capitalist industrial civilization. Ignoring the fact that abrupt climate change is well under way with multiple extinction-causing feedback loops having already been set into motion, the right course of action would have been a rapid downsizing and simplification of our mode of living:
We would also have to ignore the reality of the corporate state’s all-pervasive power. With its techniques of inverted totalitarianism, the corporate state has extinguished everything but the façade of democracy. Serving as the corporate mouthpiece, the mainstream media frames public discourse on socio-economic issues in very oversimplified terms while lumping the population into a very stark, cartoon-like dichotomy of Left versus Right. Thus there is never a substantive debate about our predicament; the dominant paradigm is never questioned except in small and obscure circles whose views never see the light of day. Refusing to acknowledge that fossil fuels are causing planetary ecocide and that renewable energy will not, by any stretch of the imagination, meet the high energy consumption levels of consumer capitalism are both fatal flaws of thinking. Neither group will admit that the root cause of the disease is our way of living. To do so would undercut their belief system, the principal tenants of which are that mankind’s superior adaptive capabilities and technological innovations will carry us through. Self-delusion on such a massive scale results in strange conspiracy thinking to emerge such as the following right-wing tripe:
Never mind that our government has become nothing more than a feeding trough and revolving door for corporations seeking market control and revenue streams. The people truly latched to the teat of government are those with the money to hire armies of lobbyists, bribe officials with lucrative private sector positions, ‘buy’ government contracts and game the system fully in their favor.
The Fantasy of Energy Unicorns Rescuing Industrial Civilization
The second law of thermodynamics states that energy flows or dissipates from concentrated forms to diffuse forms. Fossil fuels are very concentrated forms of energy, but renewables like wind and solar are very diffuse and intermittent energies. According to leading energy experts like Professor Charles Hall, the EROEI of renewable energy continues to be too low when compared with fossil fuels. Thus in the free market system, the lowest-priced energy (with environmental costs externalized) will always win out and be utilized.
“2013 EIA new plant capital costs of various energy technologies and
pumped storage for balancing intermittent renewables”
As Ted Trainer has shown, claims of renewables running the industrialized world are numerous and avoid any critical evaluation of their claims:
…Unfortunately people working on renewable energy technologies tend not to throw critical light on the difficulties and limits. They typically make enthusiastic claims regarding the potential of their specific technologies.
There are now several impressive reports claiming that renewable can meet world energy demand, and almost no literature questioning the claim…” – link
“..Trainer’s general point on technology is that the extent of ecological overshoot is already so great that technology alone will never be able to solve the ecological crises of our age, certainly not in a world based on economic growth and with a growing global population… – link
Trainer and other analysts identify several factors that limit large-scale renewable energy projects:
- Transmission losses: Distant solar thermal, photovoltaic farms, and wind farms must transmit their generated energy through long distance high-voltage direct current cables. The best places for harnessing wind power are usually in remote locations far from populated areas, but solar lends itself more to a model of decentralized electricity generation which can avoid transmission losses and the high cost of transmission lines.
- Embodied Energy Costs: The energy to produce the steel, mine the minerals and raw material, and manufacture the wind turbines and solar panels, then deliver and install them, and later repair and maintain them, finally disposing of them. In a recent study, Charles Hall and Pedro Prieto have found that such costs have been unaccounted for in the estimates of solar PV’s EROEI. Spain’s boom and subsequent bust in solar energy production was found to have generated an abysmal EROEI of 2.45 thermal units of energy output for 1 thermal unit invested, as poor as biofuels.
Just to make the silicon used to trap the sun’s rays on manufactured wafers requires the melting of silica rock at 3,000 Fahrenheit (1,649 Celsius). And the electricity of coal-fired plants or ultrapurified hydrogen obtained from fossil sources provide the heat to do that. It also takes a fantastic amount of oil to make concrete, glass and steel for solar modules…
…Prieto calculates, for example, that to replace all electricity made by nuclear and fossil fuels in Spain would take a solar module complex covering 6,000 sq. km of the country at the cost the entire Spanish budget (1.2 billion Euros in 2007). It would also require the equivalent of 300 billion car batteries to store the energy for night-time use.
Prieto is not alone in reaching such sobering conclusions. A 2013 Stanford University report, for example, calculated that global photovoltaic industry now requires more electricity to make silicon wafers and solar troughs than it actually produces in return. Since 2000 the industry consumed 75 per cent more energy than it put onto the grid and all during its manufacturing and installation process.
Moreover it won’t pay off this energy debt or energy consumed in its construction until 2016. As a consequence, ramping up of industrial solar production produces more greenhouse gases than it saves for nearly a decade… – link
- Plant Lifetime: 20 years is estimated for wind (Sharman, 2012) and 35 years for photovoltaic. To quote Kevin Moore, “Gaia pulverises everything in the long-term and converts it all into sediment (except certain partially degraded plastics, which seem destined to drift in the oceans for eternity).” Another factor perhaps not discussed much is the effect climate change will have on the variability and volatility of weather patterns where solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects are constructed. Wind, cloud, and rain patterns will be altered, rendering energy plants ill-suited to their originally targeted sites. The world’s energy infrastructure will be increasingly vulnerable to the ravages of climate chaos with more intense flooding, droughts, and shifting weather patterns. Hydroelectric power, solar farms, nuclear plants, and biofuel plantations are dependant on water to run and cool the turbines, clean the solar panels and mirrors, mine the uranium as well as cool the reactor core and spent fuel rods, and grow the biomass. Hotter temperatures will tax the electric grid because of increased electricity demand for cooling in the summer, reduction in the performance and capacity of transformers and above-ground transmission lines, and infrastructure damage from wildfires. Sea level rise will also wreak havoc with coastal erosion, storm surges and flooding.
Creation is Subject to the Bondage of Decay