Burn coal and stop building renewables
Recently, I attended a conference that hosted a panel on the energy crisis and ways out of our current dilemma. I am not going to go into the details but suffice it to say that I have a new rule. If you read the bio of a speaker and he describes himself as a “critical thinker”, stay away. In this case, the speaker argued that it would be better for the environment if we stopped building renewable energy facilities altogether and instead burnt coal in our homes. I wonder whether the fact that this person had spent his entire career in the coal industry had anything to do with his “critical thinking”.
One panellist made such great remarks as “what’s the difference between growing a tree and burning the wood vs. burning a tree, turning it into coal and then burning the coal?” Well, a couple of million years, that’s the difference.
In any case, the main thrust of the argument was that building wind and solar power plants is much more energy- and resource-intensive than just burning coal and gas. They argued that besides the known problems with fluctuations in energy output from wind and solar, the emissions created by renewable energy over the life cycle are much higher than for coal or gas power. Not that they presented any data in support of these statements, so I had to write about this myself to set the record straight. And indeed, I didn’t have to do too much, because Craig Bonthron from Artemis Funds recently worked through the numbers and it isn’t even a close contest.
The main problem is that while building wind and solar power plants uses a lot of metals and the mining, transportation and refining of these metals is very energy intensive, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per MWh of electricity generated is much, much lower. Below is the killer chart from his analysis that shows the amount of resources needed by the fossil fuel industry in 2022 and until 20250 compared to the amount of resources needed by the renewables industry until 2050. Craig puts it perfectly thus: “By weight, in the next six-to-12 weeks alone the world will burn through fossil fuels equivalent to the total natural resources that will be required by clean technology over the next 28 years”.
Resources needed by weight by renewables and fossil fuels
Source: Artemis impact equities team
Of course, weight doesn’t equal greenhouse gas emissions, but in terms of greenhouse gas emitted during the lifetime of a power plant, gas power emits some 21x more greenhouse gases than solar power across the entire lifetime of the plant, while coal emits some 38x more. And wind energy emits about half as much greenhouse gas over its lifetime as solar power, so the comparison gets even more lopsided.
It is clear that these self-declared “experts” are nothing of the sort and just part of the phenomenon of climate sceptics that I like to describe with a simple observation: “The whole scientific community knows climate change is man-made and due mostly to burning fossil fuels, except for a few oil & gas executives and the scientists paid by them who uncover the faulty science underlying the climate change hysteria”.