Sometimes a Great Notion
The International Energy Agency concludes after study that the Biden notion of spending trillions of dollars to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to green energy” is unworkable. In a 287 page tract which analyzes scores of data it notes that the plan relies on mining industries and infrastructure for “energy transition minerals”(ETMs) which do not exist:
The IEA finds that with a global energy transition like the one President Biden envisions, demand for key minerals such as lithium, graphite, nickel and rare-earth metals would explode, rising by 4,200%, 2,500%, 1,900% and 700%, respectively, by 2040.
Not only are these industries and technologies non-existent, but the lavishly funded proposed transition provides nothing to fund and build them.
Worse news for those believing this transition will provide environmental benefits, “the world would face daunting environmental, economic and social challenges, along with geopolitical risks” if it proceeds with this plan, which in any event would, as the IEA notes would take years from discovery of the minerals to production. Even if we started tomorrow, new ETM production would only take place after 2035 and certainly makes nonsensical the goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by that date.
Here are some of the environmental consequences of the necessary considerable increase in mining ETMs:
- The minerals like lithium tend to be found in areas “of high water stress” but require large volumes of water and would create big risks of contamination “through acid mine drainage, wastewater discharge and disposal of tailings.”
- Depending on the location and nature of the mines, emissions from mining operations “could wipe out much or most of the emissions saved by driving electric cars.”
- Moreover, such mining occurs mainly in countries where corruption and bribery create additional substantial risks.
And then there are the costs. The report observes that such a sharp increase in demand for ETMs will substantially drive up commodity prices with deleterious effects throughout the global economy.
When it comes to batteries, the IEA notes this could ‘eat up’ the anticipated reductions in manufacturing costs expected from the ‘learning effects’ of increased production. It’s an outcome that runs counter to the narrative of inevitably cheaper green-energy machines over time.
This is not the first or only time that great (energy) notions seem to have been written by kindergarteners in crayon on butcher paper. I remember distinctly the idea that solar panels were the thing to reduce use of electricity and improve the environment, without taking into consideration the substantial use of energy and resources involved in creating glass and aluminum or the environmental damage in their creation. Aluminum, last time I looked, is one of the most energy-intensive materials to produce, one of the largest consumer of energy on a per-weight basis, and one of the largest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), and the largest electric energy consumer of all industries.
Even the production of photovoltaic panels themselves involves substantial environmental risk, a risk amplified by the poor oversight and controls in countries where most are produced. And the panel production requires a great deal of water and carbon based energy:
Places that depend largely on coal have the most carbon-intense electricity in the world: Chinese electricity is a good example, having roughly twice the carbon intensity of U.S. electricity. This fits with the results of researchers in Illinois at Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University. In a report published this past June, they found that the carbon footprint of photovoltaic panels made in China is indeed about double that of those manufactured in Europe.
It’s hard to tell whether the IEA’s considered analysis of the costs and infeasibility of the Biden energy plan will throw some cold water on it, but if there’s any intelligence left in Congress or the White House, it should.