THE arbitrary date of 2050 set by the US, Canada, Britain, Europe and Australia to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions is only 28 years away, yet almost no attention has been given to the reality of everyday life when power is provided by wind, solar and very little else.
So let us look at how it is proposed to provide electricity when there’s no wind, as in the weeks-long wind drought in Europe in 2021, and no sunshine, not just from sunset to sunrise but on cloudy days.
Batteries: It would require vast acres of battery installations to power a whole country even for a few hours. The huge quantities of lithium, cobalt and other rare earths required would be produced by major increases in mining using diesel-powered machinery. This is not happening at present and almost all rare earth mining and processing is controlled by China. And when the batteries have gone flat how will they be recharged?
Pumped hydro: This uses surplus electricity to pump water uphill to a reservoir, releasing it through a turbine when needed. There is only one new project for this in Australia, Snowy Hydro 2, and none in Britain or Europe with the possible exception of Scandinavian countries.
Hydrogen: The much-touted magic solution to generating electricity with no emissions. Unfortunately so-called green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water using very large quantities of electricity, considerably more than the electricity it produces when it is used as fuel. So it’s back to wind and solar to make hydrogen – when they can be spared. Hydrogen has many other problems. To replace gas for domestic use would require all the thousands of miles of gas piping in the UK to be replaced by thicker, larger-diameter pipes, and hydrogen would increase domestic heating bills about five-fold. For use as transport fuel the situation is even worse; storage of any significant quantity in filling stations or vehicle fuel tanks requires large, heavy, high-pressure vessels to store liquefied hydrogen plus a cooling system to keep it liquid. No vehicle could operate with this requirement. For aircraft it would be even worse. (For a comprehensive treatise on hydrogen power, see here.)
Carbon capture and storage (CCS): This means extracting the carbon dioxide gas from the flues of fossil fuel power stations, compressing it and pumping it through pipelines for many miles and then underground into rock formations and making sure it stays there for ever – a monumentally expensive task which would require huge amounts of power. Moreover CO2 is highly corrosive for normal steel piping, more so if it is compressed.
Nuclear fission: An emissions-free way to generate electricity used successfully in many countries, notably France which generates 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear. However, the Greens’ baseless fear of spent fuel storage risks and nuclear accidents has enabled them to maintain a ban on nuclear in Australia. Angela Merkel was scared into closing down all Germany’s nuclear power stations by the non-nuclear Fukushima accident.
Nuclear fusion: This is the holy grail of power generation, and always will be.
None of the proposed solutions above can be applied to transport by sea and air which account for virtually all worldwide trade, so this will effectively cease in a net zero world. In addition, more than 6,000 products are derived from oil and gas: fertiliser is a major one and so are numerous medicines.
Now picture Net Zero Britain when a not uncommon weather system results in several days without wind and a few cloudy days before, during or after it. Grid storage batteries will be flat, probably within the first few hours, pumped hydro will be empty and all road vehicles will have flat batteries. Hospitals currently have standby diesel generators, but post 2050 will they have any fuel in stock? There will be no ships or aircraft bringing in food supplies or other goods because they can’t run on renewables. So the population will be huddled in their homes with no lights, not even candles because they are made from paraffin wax derived from fossil fuel, no heating or cooking, no TV and no running water except what’s left in their roof tanks.
Computers will all be dead, and server farms will be inoperable and will start to fail as their cooling systems will have ceased working. Mobile phones will all be flat. Manufacturing industry, the wealth creators, will long since have closed down, destroyed by unaffordable or unavailable electricity. Hunger will stalk the land because no fertiliser will be available to increase crop yields.
Not even the super-rich will be spared: private jets and luxury yachts will long since have been immobilised. They will be dining on reserves of tinned food like everyone else.
When a breeze picks up and the sun comes out, who gets the electricity: the families on middle or lower incomes or the very rich? Households with rooftop solar panels and enough land for their own wind turbine will begin to return to near normal; those without either who live in flats won’t be so lucky.
Many other things which we take for granted will not be available when fossil fuels are no more. Thousands of plastic products will no longer exist; roads will all be deteriorating to gravel and potholes without bitumen, which is derived from oil. Anything made of steel will be rusting away; all other commonly used metals such as copper and aluminium will no longer be produced so anything made of them will not be repairable or replaceable. The Naval fleet will be rusting in port without fuel, the RAF will be grounded and the Army will have no tanks or vehicles to deploy soldiers anywhere. China, Russia and other unfriendly nations will have been watching these developments with interest.
The supreme irony of all this is that it’s totally unnecessary. In spite of hot weather spots cherry-picked by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the BBC and the Guardian, Planet Earth has not warmed at all for the last seven years ten months (and counting), in a phenomenon known by the IPCC as a pause. Previously there was a ‘pause’ which lasted 18 years. Basically the Earth warms and cools over the years as it has done for eons. Furthermore, it has never been proved by repeatable scientific experiment that CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat. Indeed scientists have proved that CO2 does not trap heat. In any case, mankind’s contribution to the carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is minuscule. The whole world’s man-made CO2 emissions are one hundred thousandth of the Earth’s atmosphere (0.000012), an infinitesimally small amount.
Is any world leader bold enough to promote reality and common sense on this vital issue and take on the outraged rent seekers? I fear not, so I fear for the future of my children and grandchildren.