August 30, 2022
Wind and solar energy are neither efficient nor cheap, which is why Western countries have dramatically reduced energy consumption since the early 2000's, despite billions of dollars in energy cost subsidies. Meanwhile Chinese energy consumption, which is 90% reliant on thermodynamically superior fossil fuels and nuclear energy, has increased by well over 50 percent and its electricity consumption has increased by over 200 percent.
The path to decarbonisation using wind and solar energy is creating a greater economic and social cost than any climate change consequences caused by using fossil fuels. The cure is worse than the disease, but to date much of the symptoms have been disguised by importing high energy intensive goods from China.
The reality our politicians need to come to grips with, is that wind and solar cannot provide the low carbon future they have promised without significant reductions in our standard of living. Western countries need to accept what China knows. That is, fossil fuels are the necessary bridge to a nuclear-based, low-carbon future.
The Energy of Nations
Energy blindness is leading to policy blunder. The slightly abridged Quillette article by John Constable and Debra Lieberman 24 August 2022
Since about 2005, and in almost every Western economy, something historically unprecedented and extremely alarming has been happening to energy consumption: itâ€™s either flatlining or in decline.
According to data collected by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, total energy consumption in the UK, for example, is back at levels not seen since the 1950s; there has been a 30 percent decline from its peak in 2003, which is astonishing given that the population has increased by 12.5 percent, to 67 million, over the same period.
According to the European Environment Agency, energy consumption in the EU stalled with the financial crisis of 2008, has fallen by about 13 percent from the peak of 2006 and is now at levels not seen since before 1990. Even in North America, energy consumption is stagnant. Post-2007, total energy consumption in the United States fell substantially and then flatlined, falling again because of the pandemic, and, by 2020, it had lost about 13 percent of the 2007 high. Canadian demand is faltering similarly. Across the Pacific, Australia has shown weak to non-existent growth in demand since 2008 and Japanese energy demand has fallen by over 20 percent from its 2004 peak.
Some will reasonably ask, "Isnâ€™t reduced energy demand, even for electricity, just evidence of increased efficiency?â€ Counterintuitively, the answer is "No.â€ In fact, greater energy efficiency in one domain merely provides energy for consumption in another. Energy efficiency will either increase demand for the now-cheaper good or service or, if demand for the good or service cannot increase rapidly, the saved energy will be economised to improve the quality of life in another sector, and so total energy consumption will tend to rise.
This is a matter of documented history. The increasingly efficient use of coal from the late medieval period onwards resulted in centuries of greater creativity, freedom, and enterpriseâ€”and more coal consumption, not less. In fact, the increased consumption of coal led to the greater wealth and sophistication that eventually led to the harnessing of electricity as a carrier and higher-quality energy sources such as oil, gas, and uranium, the use of which increased energy consumption still further. History shows conclusively that energy efficiency improvements precipitate increases in consumption and are, therefore, extremely unlikely to be causing the sweeping cross-national reductions in Western energy demand.
So, what is causing Western energy consumption to collapse? Regrettably, it is due to environmental policy and its far-reaching unintended consequences. Of these interventions, the most damaging are emissions trading schemes and the unprecedented investment in renewable energy, both of which are significantly increasing consumer costs and causing consumption to plummet. The EUâ€™s emissions trading scheme adds about €17 billion a year to energy costs within the bloc, and the UKâ€™s newly independent version is expected to cost a staggering €6.7 billion in the current financial year. In addition to this, the EU has spent an incredible €800 billion providing income support to renewables since 2008, a total that is still increasing at €69 billion a year. The UK alone is paying over €12 billion every year topping up incomes for wind and solar. So far, the US is a relatively minor player, having spent a mere €120 billion from 2008 to 2018, which is probably part of the reason that things are not as bad on that side of the Atlantic.
The expectation was that these subsidies would bring down the cost of renewable energy and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases at an affordable cost. Both hopes have been disappointed. Capital and particularly operating costs have remained stubbornly high, while grid system management costs are rising sharply.
Because green electricity is still extremely expensive, the cost of preventing the emission of a tonne of carbon dioxide by switching to wind or solar vastly exceeds even high-end estimates of the Social Cost of Carbon, which is a monetised value of the harm done to human welfare by the climate change arising from that carbon dioxide. The conclusion is obvious. The cure is worse than the disease.
The intentions may have been good, but by committing these vast subsidies to renewables, politicians have failed to provide an economically compelling example of a low-carbon energy transition and have succeeded only in making energy much more expensive, resulting in price-rationing and falling consumption.
While Western energy consumption is stalling or collapsing, one country is increasing its energy use, propping up our consumption with its exports and giving the rest of the world a false sense of security: China.
Since 2007, when the West began its energy starvation diet, Chinese energy consumption has increased by well over 50 percent and its electricity consumption has increased by over 200 percent. In 2007, the US was consuming 30 percent more electricity than China, but China's electricity use is now 70 percent higher than that of the US. Moreover, China is 90 percent reliant on thermodynamically superior fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and only some of the immense wealth being generated in China by these fuels is being exported. What are they doing with the rest? Time will tell.
The West must change course
But right now, as a matter of extreme urgency, the West must reverse the decline in the quality of its energy supply and the consequent collapse in energy consumption. Further improvements in energy efficiency might help protect consumers over the short term by keeping money in the bank and shielding them from the consequences of bad energy policies, but they are not a long-term substitute for a healthy and physically sound energy supply. If we value the quality of human livesâ€”if we value our freedomâ€”then toying with low-density energy sources is an indulgence; and if reducing carbon emissions is a requirement, as we believe it is, then reason shows that fossil fuels are the necessary bridge to a nuclear-based, low-carbon future.
With the Chinese economy on a thermodynamically sound footing and those in the West very much not, the world has turned upside down in the blink of an eye. The economic consequences of this are serious, the security implications potentially terrifying. Our energy blindness is both costly and dangerous.
Full article here: https://quillette.com/2022/08/24/the-energy-of-nations/
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