What Is the Best Way to Manage Climate Danger?

by | Jun 14, 2022

The best way to manage climate danger is climate mastery.

Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and fuels refined from crude oil e.g. gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuels) are by far the world’s dominant fuel of choice because they are abundant, economical, transportable, and energy-dense (high energy per unit of volume and weight). In the US, natural gas and coal are the most-used fuels for electric power generation with crude oil derivatives most used to power transportation vehicles.

Global carbon neutrality (aka net-zero) is the goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions (primarily CO2) to zero by the year 2050.  US federal and state officials are pursuing global carbon neutrality with anti-fossil fuel policies that include mandating the replacement of fossil-fueled electric generation with non-fossil alternatives, i.e. wind and solar (aka green, clean or renewable) electric generation.

This brief will explain some little-known facts that explain why wind and solar generating capacity cannot replace fossil-fueled generating capacity and why that fact guarantees that wind and solar generation will cause electricity prices to soar. This brief will also reveal some surprising, but undeniable, facts that will lead to the inescapable conclusion that replacing fossil generation with costly wind and solar generation will prove to be both futile and unnecessary:

  • Wind and solar electricity are unlikely to significantly reduce global warming and climate change.
  • There is a more cost-effective and proven alternative to wind and solar electric generation.

 

Why Green Capacity Cannot Replace Fossil Capacity

One of the salient policies aimed at curbing fossil fuel emissions is the use of wind and solar electric generation to replace fossil-fueled electric generation which currently supplies about 80% of electricity consumed in the US. Apparently, many Americans believe that wind and solar generation is a suitable replacement for reliable fossil-fueled generating capacity. But that belief is mistaken because wind and solar-generated electricity are only available intermittently when the sun is shining brightly, or the wind is blowing vigorously. And seasonal variations can be even worse than the lengthy daily power shortages. So green replacement of fossil-fueled electricity can only be intermittent and unreliable. The wind and solar electric supply can collapse to near-zero at any time.

To illustrate, see the chart (below) that depicts the daily average output for a year in the CAISO grid which supplies most of California. Note that both wind and solar production fall to very low levels during the winter.[1]

 

CAISO Wind and Solar graphs (Fig 10 and 11) and the California Battery Storage Graph of Renewable Supluses and Deficits  (Fig 14) are all from the same paper by Clean Air Task Force presentation to Congress which is cited in footnote 1: 20190724-Cohen-Pathways-to-Decarbonize-1

Germany Chart of electric supply and demand. This graph was created and posted on Twitter and website by Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and Fossil Future.

As the Germany chart (above) illustrates, wind and solar electricity can only intermittently replace reliable electricity as sunshine and winds permit. But even when wind and solar output is serving most of the electricity demand, the grid operator must maintain a substantial generating capacity of reliable fossil generation in operation to assure that fossil output can serve demand precisely and instantaneously when wind or solar output suddenly declines or collapses. Unless the electric supply precisely and instantaneously matches electric demand at all times, any AC electric grid will collapse, causing widespread power outages for hours or even days.

Fossil fueled capacity is dispatchable[2] – meaning that the electric output of an electric generator can be rapidly ramped up and down between the minimum and maximum electric output. The turbine generators are dispatched by regulating the flow of gas, oil, or steam energy into the turbines that rotate the generators. Dispatchable capacity is absolutely necessary for reliable grid operation because the generated electric supply must be constantly adjusted to precisely and instantaneously match changing electric demand to avoid grid blackouts.

Wind and solar capacity are not dispatchable. That means that dispatchable capacity[3], must always be instantaneously available to serve the peak electricity demand whenever wind and fossil fail. Since wind and solar capacity is neither reliable nor dispatchable, wind and solar generation capacity must never be used to permanently replace dispatchable capacity such as fossil generating capacity.

For example, note in the Germany chart that the solar electric supply is only available part of each day and the wind electric supply is highly variable. Note that the combined wind and solar electric supply varies between the supply of more than 90% of electric demand to less than 5% of demand, all within a single week. This is an excellent example of why dispatchable generating capacity such as fossil-fueled turbine generators must always be adequate to meet maximum electric demand even when wind and solar are not producing.

To be clear, the output of dispatchable capacity can be temporarily reduced to accommodate rising wind and solar output on an electric grid. But a reliable grid must maintain sufficient dispatchable capacity to serve the electric demand even when wind and solar output falls to zero.

When intervenors or regulators succeed in reducing a grid’s dispatchable capacity to less than the grid peak demand (plus normal reserves) on the false expectation that dispatchable capacity can be reliably replaced by wind and solar, the electricity supply will fail, electrical blackouts will follow and the grid’s customers will suffer.

 

Why Green Electricity Is So Expensive

Intermittent wind and solar capacity cannot permanently replace reliable and dispatchable generators without sacrificing grid dependability. Therefore, existing dispatchable generating capacity must be maintained in service and new dispatchable generating capacity added to the grid to replace retirements and serve electric demand growth. That’s why adding wind and solar generation to a grid necessarily means adding excess capacity and significant cost to the existing electric grid. The added cost is unavoidable without sacrificing the reliability of the electric supply. Obviously, the more wind and solar added to a dependable grid, the higher the cost of electricity (and subsidies) to consumers. And the cost impact will continue indefinitely, relentlessly draining the wealth and resources of consumers at an excessive cost rate.

For example, California lawmakers mandated that electric utilities supply costly wind and solar generation as part of their total generation. So, California utilities supplied 22.6% of their electricity from wind and solar in 2020.[4] As a result, the average cost of electricity in California rose from 9.47¢/kWh in 2000 to 18.00¢/kWh in 2020 [5] – almost double in only 20 years. Yet California isn’t even halfway to the California legislature’s green generation goal of 50% of the total. So, claims that green generation is less expensive than fossil are not credible.

Consultant McKinsey and Company estimated that the added cost to the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 would be about $3.5 trillion annually.[6] That’s about 4% of global GDP or about 200% of GDP for a 50-year effort. A more personal way to look at the cost is that each wage-earning individual’s average share of GDP would be about two years of gross salary – money that would not be saved for individual retirement. The estimate of the International Renewable Energy Agency is 25% higher.

In reality, such costs are not very predictable because they depend so much on unpredictable and arbitrary actions by governments and on the amount that typical government waste, taxes, and restrictions on fossil fuel supply will add to the cost. But the McKinsey and IREA estimates at least help us to appreciate that the anti-fossil policies if allowed to continue and grow, will certainly have a significant adverse economic impact on Americans.

 

Electric Storage Batteries

The Sierra Club and other anti-fossil advocates have claimed that with enough batteries, green grids can become dependable without retaining the existing grid. But consider the cost calculation by the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) to make California’s CAISO grid totally green with only electric storage battery backup to make the grid more dependable.

 

Recall the chart that shows the wide variance in wind and solar energy production in California’s huge CAISO electric grid. The CATF simulated a 100% wind and solar grid for California’s CAISO grid sized such that there would be sufficient surplus generation in the warmer (surplus) months that could be stored in batteries to provide sufficient electricity in the cooler (deficit) months. See surpluses and deficits depicted in the chart (below, labeled Figure 14). The CATF estimated that the California utilities would need to store almost 36 trillion KWh of energy in batteries during the surplus months to be assured of a reliable, 24/7 electric supply every day during the deficit months.

The CATF’s Executive Director testified to Congress in 2019, that the CATF estimated that the cost of California’s green generation with battery storage would be about $1,402/MWh ($1.42/KWh) – i.e. about 7 times California’s already high cost of electric energy. This cost rate will seem even more absurd when considering that the CATF estimate assumed that battery costs would be 85% less than the US DOE’s cost estimate and that wind power would cost 38% less and solar PV would cost 64% less than 2019 costs. No justification for these cost discounts was provided. But even after heavily discounting the current cost, a green power grid with realistically sized battery storage would be absurdly expensive.

Americans might consider how well US manufacturers will be able to compete with foreign manufacturers, even in the US, when their electricity costs rise to 30¢/kWh or 40¢/kWh or more when America’s anti-fossil policies are fully implemented. For example, how will US manufacturers be able to compete with fossil-fueled Chinese manufacturers whose average electricity cost is currently only about 8¢/kWh?

 

Nuclear energy and Other Alternatives

The average cost of electricity in France is currently about 0.1582 €/KWh (about 18.30¢/kWh) – roughly equivalent to California’s current cost of electricity. [7] France’s grid capacity is mostly nuclear with 59 large power reactors located around the nation. Nuclear generating plants are reliable, dispatchable, and have no significant emissions. Although nuclear plants are not so competitive with domestically sourced fossil-fueled power, they appear to be cost-competitive with wind and solar and are much more effective in reducing carbon emissions. But because of a web of legal and regulatory obstacles, it is now nearly impossible to build new nuclear power plants in the US, even if the nuclear industry finds a way to become more competitive.

Hydroelectric power (with reservoir storage) and geothermal power can also be dispatchable with little or no carbon emissions. However, suitable sites have mostly been developed in the US and these facilities face enormous environmental opposition and regulatory hurdles.

Biofuels, of course, are carbon fuels that emit carbon gases into the atmosphere. They also compete with our food sources for farmland.

Carbon capture is a proven, but very expensive, technology. The most important barrier to carbon capture is that the enormous amount of CO2 that would need to be stored far exceeds world capacity. Another barrier is the potential for massive liability that might be incurred if the store CO2 is accidentally released.

 

International Indifference

The US contributes only about a tenth of the global carbon emissions and US emissions have been declining due to efficiency gains. So the goal of global carbon neutrality necessarily requires major global carbon emissions reduction by most other nations, especially developing nations with rapid growth in energy consumption. But that has not happened. As the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported,

“Despite many pledges and efforts by governments to tackle the causes of global warming, CO2 emissions from energy and industry have increased by 60% since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [aka the UNFCC or the Kyoto Protocol] was signed in 1992.”[8]

The executive director of the IEA said this about various nations’ reductions of carbon emissions:

“I will be blunt. Commitments alone are not enough. We need real change in the real world. Right now, the data does not match the rhetoric …The gap is getting wider and wider.” [9]

In January 2021, President Biden’s Climate Ambassador John Kerry said the following about reducing global atmospheric CO2 emissions: [10]

“He [President Biden] knows Paris [Agreement] alone is not enough… Not when almost 90 percent of all of the planet’s global emissions come from outside of US borders. We [the USA] could go to zero tomorrow and the problem isn’t solved.”   [Emphasis added.]

According to the Wall Street Journal, only 18 nations have reduced emissions for a decade or more.[11] Apparently,  the other 173 nations reject, or pay lip service to, the global carbon neutrality goal. They make little progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions, especially in some nations that will be most responsible for the majority of future global CO2 emissions (including populous nations like China, India, and Russia). For example, China already produces about 30 percent of Earth’s carbon emissions; has added 38 GW of new coal-fired plants in 2020, and has 247 GW of coal-fired generation in development.[12] The Russian economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports.

At least half the world’s population cannot afford even as much electricity as most Americans use to power their refrigerators. How can the standard of living of such people, even poor Americans, improve if their electricity becomes more expensive? So global carbon neutrality cannot succeed without reducing their chance to improve their lives with the most affordable energy. In short, the morality of insisting that billions of poor people abandon affordable fossil fuels seems questionable.

There have been many failed attempts to secure enforceable commitments from other nations, including a recent failed attempt by President Biden at the Glasgow 26th annual Conference of Principals (COP26) in 2021. (President Obama also failed, years before that.) Advocates of global carbon neutrality may want Americans to believe that the nations of the world will agree to an enforceable international treaty to slash fossil fuel consumption. But after 30 years of failure, reducing carbon emissions sufficiently to achieve global carbon neutrality is highly unlikely and top US officials know it.

So it is very likely that the entire idea of switching electric generation from fossil fuels to wind and solar will prove to be futile. That’s because the entire costly green electricity endeavor is highly unlikely to come even close to achieving the goal of global carbon neutrality – thus mitigating climate danger.

Unfortunately, US federal and state governments continue to mandate a switch to costly green electricity, even knowing that the effort is costly, disruptive, and futile. As it turns out, the switch to green electricity is not only futile, but it is also unnecessary because there is a better way to protect Americans from climate danger.

 

Climate Danger?

The influential UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[13] (IPCC) – in its 2021 IPCC AR6 Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) [14] – contends that rising global temperatures are causing proportionally more intense and more frequent extremes of certain types of weather, specifically, heavy precipitation, droughts and high temperatures (including heat waves). Global warming is also cited as the cause for gradually rising sea levels (because warming melts polar ice and causes ocean water to expand). But while the IPCC warns of “more intense and more frequent extremes” in weather, the IPCC does not explicitly warn policy makers of climate danger. In fact, the IPCC does not even warn policymakers to expect increases in violent wind storms like hurricanes and tornados.

Humans have always had to contend with weather extremes and will need to do so in the future. Increases in danger are apparently being exaggerated, but not by the IPCC scientists. Those facts may be surprising to most people who regularly hear or read of climate danger from climate alarmists in the popular media and politics. But the facts are there for all to read online in the IPCC’s SPM.

 

Climate Mastery

Climate mastery is the practice of addressing the specific risks of weather extremes that characterize a particular climate, rather than attempting to retard the global rate of climate change. Climate mastery is a direct and efficient approach to protecting humans from the dangers of extreme weather without giving up affordable electricity. The Swiss, for example, need protection from occasional avalanches after a heavy snowfall, but they don’t need protection from hurricanes or rising seas. The Cubans aren’t concerned with avalanches but certainly need to master the dangers of hurricanes or rising seas.

Modern climate mastery in the US now includes a plethora of protective adaptations such as building storm resilient habitats and workplaces, seawater desalination, irrigation, drought, and pest-resistant crops, chemical fertilizers, better extreme weather forecasting, better weather warning methods, building dikes and levees, improvements in emergency medicine, better rescue technics, improved building insulation, improved air conditioning and heating systems, better cold-weather clothing, better hot weather clothing, storm warnings, etc. (Note that energy plays a significant role in adapting to climate change. So the more economical our energy, the better.)

Here’s a specific example of climate mastery in the context of a major climate change. People living in New York City and Miami live in distinctly different climates. The annual average temperature difference between the two cities is 12°C. That’s far greater than the amount of warming that climate alarmists are claiming will cause a climate catastrophe. When New Yorkers retire to Miami, it’s a big climate change, but not a climate catastrophe. Certainly, the Miami climate is much more tropical than NYC, but Miami weather is hardly more dangerous than NYC weather. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that a surge of NYC to Miami migration has caused the price of Miami condos to almost double.[15] Apparently, the NYC migrants don’t fear the very significant climate change and apparently prefer the warmer climate in Miami despite the cost of housing.

Why should New Yorkers worry? People relocating from NYC to the Miami area can safely adapt. They quickly grasp that they are wise to have air-conditioned cars and living spaces. They wear cooler clothing and they learn to avoid golf or tennis in the middle of summer days. They keep an eye out for summer thunderstorms and they move to a more secure shelter when warned of the approach of a major tropical storm. If the migrants buy a condo, they need to pay attention to its resilience to hurricanes. Climate crisis avoided.

What about the danger of rising seas? The IPCC AR6 SPM reports a 1.46 inch per decade rate of rise of global mean sea level from 2006 to 2018. Not exactly a tsunami. After decades, structures and farmland in low-lying seaside areas may eventually be at risk, but human life will certainly not be endangered by rising seas because people have decades of warning to move to higher ground or to wall off the sea with dikes and levees.

It should be obvious that effective climate mastery requires a variety of investments and protective actions that are not free. But climate mastery is an investment that Americans will be inclined to continue making if needed, even if they must bear the added cost of green electricity. Fortunately, climate mastery does not require the cooperation of other nations, government coercion, or subsidies.

Philosopher and bestselling author, Alex Epstein, has published some surprising statistics that confirm the success of human climate mastery. Epstein’s review of the published literature found that, in the 20th century, as atmospheric CO2 rose by third, climate-related disaster deaths plunged by 98%.[16] These statistics flatly contradict the “existential threat” claims that fossil fuel emissions of CO2 pose a danger to humans. Apparently, global climate mastery is advancing much faster than climate danger caused by rising atmospheric CO2.

Death rates and CO2 graphs. See footnote 16: CLIMATE DEATHS: https://energytalkingpoints.com/cop26-agreement/

In projecting extreme danger from climate change, climate alarmists are apparently ignoring humanity’s great success in adapting to the dangers of extreme weather. It seems very unlikely that climate change is dangerous to people who take ordinary precautions to protect their lives and property against extreme weather.

 

Summary and Conclusion

Wind and solar electric generating capacity cannot replace fossil-fueled or other dispatchable generating capacity with wind and solar generating capacity without sacrificing the grid reliability on which our lifestyle depends. And that is why replacing fossil fuel generating capacity with wind and solar generating capacity: is unavoidably costly; is a potential threat to electric grid reliability, and is probably an imposition on less prosperous people who desperately need affordable energy to lift their lives out of poverty.

Forcibly imposing green generation on Americans is almost certain to fail to significantly mitigate global warming because of the resistance of so many other nations to abandoning fossil fuels.

Even the influential UN IPCC does not allege that climate change equates to climate danger. And that seems reasonable because this brief has explained how humanity has become quite adept at safely mastering potentially dangerous weather extremes without futile attempts to hinder climate change.

In summary, green electricity is unavoidably expensive and is likely to be ineffective in curtailing climate danger when compared to the proven effectiveness of climate mastery. Suppressing fossil emissions is also futile because international cooperation is required. But 90% of other nations are not cooperating. Finally, pursuing carbon neutrality is not even necessary because humanity has proven to be more than capable of safely mastering weather extremes.

To answer the title question, the best way to manage climate danger is climate mastery.

 

Notes

[1] CATF: Excerpts of testimony by Armond Cohen, Executive Director, Clean Air Task Force on July 24, 2019, to the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.

20190724-Cohen-Pathways-to-Decarbonize-1  https://cdn.catf.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/21092941/20190724-Cohen-Pathways-to-Decarbonize-1.pdf

[2] DISPATCHABLE GENERATION: Dispatchable generation – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispatchable_generation  “Dispatchable generation refers to sources of electricity that can be dispatched on demand at the request of power grid operators, according to market needs. Dispatchable generators can adjust their power output according to an order. Non-dispatchable renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar photovoltaic (PV) power cannot be controlled by operators.” Fossil fueled and nuclear fueled generating facilities are also dispatchable.

[3] RELIABLE AND DISPATCHABLE. Nuclear, geothermal and hydroelectric (with reservoir storage) are also reliable and dispatchable but almost no new generating plants using these technologies being constructed in the US. There are almost no suitable sites for geothermal and hydro and governments have made nuclear licensing prohibitively difficult and expensive.

[4] CALIFORNIA RENEWABLE ENERGY: 2020 Total System Electric Generation (ca.gov) https://www.energy.ca.gov/data-reports/energy-almanac/california-electricity-data/2020-total-system-electric-generation

[5] CALIFORNIA ELECTRICITY PRICES: US Energy Information Agency  avgprice_annual.xlsx (live.com)

https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.eia.gov%2Felectricity%2Fdata%2Fstate%2Favgprice_annual.xlsx&wdOrigin=BROWSELINK

[6] McKINSEY COST: The net-zero transition: Its cost and benefits | Sustainability | McKinsey & Company https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/the-net-zero-transition-what-it-would-cost-what-it-could-bring

[7] FRENCH NUCLEAR: French Nuclear Energy – World Nuclear Association     https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/france.aspx  en.selectra.info/energy-france/guides/electrici­ty/tariffs

[8] IEA & UNFCCC: Also known as the Kyoto Protocol.  Net Zero by 2050 – Analysis – IEA https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

The Paris Agreement of 2016 was intended to implement the international agreement. The supreme decision making body is the Conference of Parties (COP), meets annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change. Neither the Paris Agreement nor the UNFCC are legally binding treaties.

[9] IEA DIRECTOR: Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2021. Climate Summit’s Final Day Focuses on Technology, Innovation – WSJ https://www.wsj.com/articles/climate-summits-final-day-to-focus-on-technology-innovation-11619170200?mod=article_inline

[10] KERRY: Zero emissions won’t make difference in climate change (nypost.com) https://nypost.com/2021/01/27/kerry-zero-emissions-wont-make-difference-in-climate-change/

[11] WALL STREET JOURNAL: Renewables Are Key to Cutting Emissions Over Next Decade, U.N. Panel Says – WSJ https://www.wsj.com/articles/emissions-cuts-in-next-decade-are-crucial-to-meet-paris-targets-u-n-panel-says-11649085009

[12] CHINA COAL: China-Dominates-2020-Coal-Development.pdf (globalenergymonitor.org) https://globalenergymonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/China-Dominates-2020-Coal-Development.pdf

 

[13] IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an organization funded by the United Nations. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to assess scientific publications to guide public policy. The IPCC is governed by the IPCC’s 195 member nations. 195 member nations elect a bureau of scientists to serve for the duration of each assessment cycle (usually six to seven years). The bureau selects experts nominated by governments and observer organizations to prepare reports.

[14] IPCC Assessment Reports: IPCC reports are based on scientific research published independently of the IPCC. The research is primarily financed by governments, the overwhelming majority by US taxpayer funded agencies of the US government NASA, NOAA, NSF and DOE. The most recent report AR6 was published in 2021. Most of the IPCC cites were published in the section named Summary for Policy Makers.    https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM_final.pdf

WARMING TO 2100: The recent AR6 assessment of the UN IPCC has predicted mean global surface temperature increases from the beginning of the industrial age (1850-1900) through the end of the 21st century to very likely be between 1.0 and 5.7°C. AR6 says that earth experienced a temperature increase of about 1.07°C since 1850-1900 until 2019, so the IPCC’s effective temperature prediction from now to the end of this 21st century would only be a likely increase of between 0°C and 4.6°C. IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.  https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM_final.pdf   B.1.1 AR6 “… Artic and Antarctica warm more than the tropics.”

[15] Miami Locals Are Steamed Over Relocating New Yorkers Driving Up Apartment Rents – WSJ https://www.wsj.com/articles/miami-locals-are-steamed-over-relocating-new-yorkers-driving-up-apartment-rents-11652175000?mod=Searchresults_pos1&page=1

[16] CLIMATE DEATHS: https://energytalkingpoints.com/cop26-agreement/

Indur M. Goklany – Wealth and Safety: The Amazing Decline in Deaths from Extreme Weather in an Era of Global Warming, 1900–2010

For every million people on earth, annual deaths from climate-related causes (extreme temperature, drought, flood, storms, wildfires) declined 98%–from an average of 247 per year during the 1920s to 2.5 in per year during the 2010s.
Gasparrini et al. (2015) – Mortality Risk Attributable to High and Low Ambient
Temperature: A Multi-country Observational Study

Qi Zhao et al. (2021) – Global, Regional, and National Burden of Mortality Associated with Non-Optimal Ambient Temperatures from 2000 to 2019: A Three-Stage Modeling Study

Data on disaster deaths come from EM-DAT, CRED / Louvain, Brussels, Belgium – www.emdat.be (D. Guha-Sapir).

Population estimates for the 1920s from the Maddison Database 2010 come from the Groningen Growth and Development Centre, Faculty of Economics and Business at University of Groningen. For years not shown, the population is assumed to have grown at a steady rate.     Latest population estimates from World Bank Data.

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Richard Batey received a Bachelor of Science degree (Physics) from Texas A&M University and enjoyed a lengthy career in the electric utility power generation and transmission industry. Rich receives no compensation or other benefits from any employers or sponsors.

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