While wind and solar power are taking a bigger slice of a growing global primary energy pie, fossil fuels are expected to see greater absolute growth through 2050.
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By: Leen Weijers, VP Engineering, Liberty Energy
As Liberty Energy CEO Chris Wright explained in his viral video a few weeks ago, dishonest terminology surrounds the climate debate. One of these terms is “energy transition”. The use of the term gives the impression that there is a quick, easy and scalable alternative to eliminate fossil fuel use without serious impact on people.
The current primary energy distribution according to sources and forecasts by organizations such as the EIA in their International Energy Outlook 2021 show that this “energy transition” does not exist. As you can see in the cover graphic above, and also in Liberty’s ESG report on Bettering Human Lives, no amount of primary energy produced by oil or gas is currently being replaced by renewable energy. A few headlines from the report you don’t hear often:
- Global primary energy consumption will increase by almost 50% between 2020 and 2050 as impoverished people lift themselves out of poverty;
- Oil consumption increases in all EIA scenarios. In their “baseline” scenario, oil consumption will increase by about 1 million bopd/year over the next 30 years, almost the same steady annual increase of the last 5 decades;
- Natural gas consumption will continue to increase until 2050.
The reason for this growth is simple: fossil fuels are abundant, cheap, and efficient to provide reliable and dense energy at scale. You have helped bring about a quality of life revolution for a segment of humanity, and those in poverty who have missed out on that blessing are right to want what you and I already have.
Unfortunately, few report this blessing, which we take for granted. However, good news about renewable energy breaking records is widespread and often exaggerated. There are a few marketing strategies that renewable energy advocates have used that make it appear as if renewable energy has a larger market share than it really does:
First, the use of the word “energy” or “power” when they mean “electricity.” Take this Reuters report as an example: “Renewable energy is expected to account for around 46% of Germany’s electricity consumption this year….” It sounds like Germans are getting almost half of their energy needs from renewable sources. But this is ONLY for electricity. According to the BP Statistical Review and shown below by OurWorldInData.org for world electricity versus primary electricity, world electricity accounts for only 17% of total primary electricity. There he is currently also in Germany. Germany’s top 3 primary energy sources in 2021 were oil, natural gas and coal.
Second, reporting renewable records without mentioning that they are short-lived. As an example, this article cites renewable energies, which cover 85% of Germany’s electricity needs. But like the primary power sources reported in the Timera Energy chart below, wind and solar records don’t last very long, and there are times when they don’t supply anything at all. Fossil fuels are here to support them – you’re welcome. Energy security is a marathon, not a sprint.
Third, the specification of power capacity, not energy output. Renewables really shine on this metric because they don’t work most of the time. If you’ve spent any time in western Europe, you know that like most Europeans, the sun there only works a 32-hour week, while providing little information as to when it will emerge. What to do in the remaining 136 hours of this week? You need to build a lot of strength capacity to harvest a little energy. According to BP Statistical Review, the world capacity factor is only 14% for solar power and 26% for wind power. So if you see a historical power capacity growth curve, divide the slope of the solar curve by 7 and the slope of the wind curve by 4 to get the energy yield. Consumers pay per MWh, not per MW.
And finally, the merging of “traditional biofuels” to increase the share of renewable energies in the total energy demand. These traditional biofuels kill millions of people annually through the release of PM2.5 particles from indoor cooking. If there’s one “transition” that humanity needs ASAP, it’s the transition from traditional renewable cooking fuels to clean-burning fossil cooking fuels.
These unfair reporting methods have led to confusion and the belief that an “energy transition” is currently underway. It is not.
The EIA primary energy forecast for the next 30 years shows that ALL energy sources are growing. While renewable energy takes a larger share of the growing pie, fossil fuels are expected to grow faster in absolute terms.
A spark of sanity has recently returned to the nuclear power debate. For a reliable, low-cost, low-carbon, and scalable energy transition, we must take the path suggested by Robert Bryce in his book, Power Hungry. In the short term, we need more natural gas that reduces our carbon footprint and is cheap, reliable, and plentiful. In the long run we need to develop nuclear energy, hopefully eventually nuclear fusion. Let’s hope beforehand that a spark of reason will return to the discussion about the “energy transition”.
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