This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Transforming the world’s energy system is a vast undertaking. Of colossal proportions.
Certain politicians are making promises about carbon dioxide emissions and the year 2050 – three full decades from now. Certain adults are telling elementary school children that transforming the world’s energy system is easy peasy.
But that’s not the case. In an article titled Net-Zero Carbon Dioxide Emissions By 2050 Requires A New Nuclear Power Plant Every Day, Roger Pielke Jr. delivers the harsh, mathematical truth. Even if every person in the world thought abandoning fossil fuels made sense, even if every last government was committed to such a plan, the sheer size of the task would remain. In Pielke’s words: “The scale…is absolutely, mind-bogglingly huge.”
In an entire year, a nuclear power plant is capable of producing 1 “million tons of oil equivalent” of energy – or 1 mtoe for short. Says Pielke:
In 2018 the world consumed 11,743 mtoe in the form of coal, natural gas and petroleum…there are 11,051 days left until January 1, 2050. To achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions globally by 2050 thus requires the deployment of >1 mtoe of carbon-free energy…every day, starting tomorrow and continuing for the next 30+ years. Achieving net-zero also requires the corresponding equivalent decommissioning of more than 1 mtoe of energy consumption from fossil fuels every single day.
Let us be honest and grownup here. The chances of this happening are remote.
Now let’s remember that many people insist nuclear power is off the table. We’re supposedly in the midst of a climate crisis caused by CO2 emissions, yet low-emissions nuclear power is forbidden.
Such people think we should rely on wind power, instead. According to Pielke’s calculations, that would require the construction of 1,500 wind turbines every single day from now until 2050.
Currently, the US consumes approximately 20% of the energy used across the globe. Its share of the 1,500 new wind turbines required daily would therefore be 300.
Despite years of massive subsidies designed to encourage wind energy investment, fewer than 10 turbines are currently installed in the US each day. Surely even a child understands that ramping up from 10 turbines a day to 300 is a massive challenge that couldn’t possibly happen overnight. Even in an affluent country with a booming economy.
And please, let us also put aside fairy tales about wind power being environmentally friendly. As Mark P. Mills explained recently in the Wall Street Journal:
Building one wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2,500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of nonrecyclable plastic. Solar power requires even more cement, steel and glass…
Those who “dream of powering society entirely with wind and solar farms” says Mills, are actually demanding “the biggest expansion in mining the world has seen.”
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