“Renewables” – reality or illusion?

27 03 2019


Originally posted in the Methane News Group (a considerable additional amount of information and discussion can only be seen by joining): https://www.facebook.com/groups/methanehydratesnews/

Lately I have fielded some rather interesting perspectives on “solutions” to climate change; not just here but in many other groups as well. I have pointed out that the ideas proposed as solutions are in fact just ideas; most of which require substantial amounts of energy not only to build, transport, erect, maintain, and replace at the end of their service life, but most of which serve no useful purpose to any other life form on this planet but us. Not only are these ideas unsustainable; if they don’t benefit other species, then they are ecologically extinct. Building a sustainable future means that we must incorporate ideas and things that interact with our biosphere in a manner that provides some sort of ecosystem service.

“Renewables” do not fit that description, so they are patently unsustainable.Ladies and Gentlemen, “optimism must be based in reality. If hope becomes something that you express through illusion, then it isn’t hope; it’s fantasy.” — Chris Hedges

I have spent a great deal of time lately discussing the issue of “renewables” and since this has been so pervasive as of late, I decided to draft a new file specifically for this purpose of outlining the facts.Before proceeding, please view this short video featuring Chris Hedges: https://vimeo.com/293802639

Recently, I discussed the fact that “renewables” are not a solution, and in fact, are actually making our existing predicaments worse. A considerable number of individuals are questioning these facts using all types of logical fallacies. I understand these questions; as I once thought that “renewable” energy and “green” energy and other ideas would save us as well – as little as 5 years ago. As I joined more climate change groups, I recognized the constantly repeating attack on these devices as non-solutions; so I decided to find out for myself once and for all, precisely whether they would work or not.Before going into further detail, I need to explain that IF these devices had been developed and installed back in the 1970s and 80s, along with serious efforts to quell population growth and tackling other unsustainable practices, they may have been beneficial.

However, the popular conclusion is not simply that they do not work (to serve their original intended purpose); but that they are actually causing more trouble than if they hadn’t been built at all. Many claim that these “solutions” are better than utilizing fossil energy; but this too, is an illusion. Having said that, please note that this article is in NO WAY promoting fossil energy; fossil energy use is every bit as bad, if not worse, than these devices; AND its use created the desire to build these devices in the first place.

Many people are utilizing a false dichotomy to justify continuing to build and use these devices. Using them creates no real desire to learn how to live without externally-produced energy, a loss we ALL face as time moves forward. Once the fossil fuel platform that these devices currently depend on disappears, so will the devices. Some individuals claim that we can continue to extract resources, manufacture, transport, and erect these devices after fossil energy is no longer available. This is true only on a MUCH smaller scale than the energy systems we have today, and only in small localities. On top of that, the systems of the future will continue to degrade over time and eventually, electricity will disappear altogether. Given this imminent fact, it makes little sense to continue building these devices, recognizing the environmental damage they are causing which only promotes the continued use of fossil energy as well.In order to comprehend why these devices are such a delusion, one must understand many different predicaments at once.

First, an understanding of energy and resource decline is critical. Secondly, a thorough understanding of pollution loading is essential, especially of the electronics, rare earths, mining, metals, plastics, and transportation industries. Understanding climate change and how our energy “addiction” has propelled it and continues to fuel it is absolutely necessary. Comprehension of biology along with the ecological and environmental degradation of habitat destruction and fragmentation is also necessary.

New information is constantly being made available as well, highlighting yet more reasons to stop building these devices. They are little more than energy “traps” that chain us to the same paradigm that is already killing life on this planet. The secret to resolving these issues isn’t a “new or different” energy source. It is eliminating the energy addiction altogether.The reason that eliminating energy addiction altogether is the only real strategy towards living a sustainable lifestyle is because of one seriously inconvenient fact: the diminishing returns on increasing complexity along with the fact that continuing to build these devices requires the continuation of mining, energy use, and industrial civilization – the very things killing all life on this planet.

As a system increases its complexity, the returns on that increasing complexity decrease. As we find more new ways to reduce the harm caused by energy use, misuse, and abuse, we continue to increase the complexity of producing said energy. Resistance and friction cause losses in motors, and inefficiency and sheer transmission losses produce yet further losses in all electrical systems. All these losses produce waste heat, no differently than traditional mechanical systems.

There is NO system that can be made 100% efficient, so there will ALWAYS be losses. This waste heat does nothing but add to the existing predicaments we already face; considering that in order to produce the energy to begin with, one must also pollute our atmosphere, water, and soil with toxins and byproducts of the processes themselves. Watch these three videos to understand why building each of these devices is a disaster in and of itself to wildlife around it. Focus on the devastation of the land that each unit sits on, as well as the habitat fragmentation caused by each road:




Here is a handy reference guide about “renewables” with frequently asked questions:

https://deepgreenresistance.org/en/who-we-are/faqs/green-technology-renewable-energy Here are some links to more information that will help you understand WHY “renewable” energy is NOT a solution to climate change in any way, shape, or form:

  1. http://www.sixthtone.com/news/1002631/the-dark-side-of-chinas-solar-boom-
  2. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lithium-batteries-environment-impact
  3. https://phys.org/news/2018-05-e-waste-wrong.html
  4. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth
  5. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2104162/chinas-ageing-solar-panels-are-going-be-big-environmental-problem
  6. https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/06/solar-panel-waste-environmental-threat-clean-energy/
  7. https://www.city-journal.org/wind-power-is-not-the-answer
  8. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-08-01/an-engineer-an-economist-and-an-ecomodernist-walk-into-a-bar-and-order-a-free-lunch/
  9. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/10/large-scale-wind-power-has-its-down-side/
  10. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aae102
  11. https://phys.org/news/2018-11-farm-predator-effect-ecosystems.html
  12. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/how-do-aliens-solve-climate-change/561479/
  13. https://patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com/2018/10/all-is-well-on-our-planet-earth-isnt-it.html
  14. https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3797-end-the-green-delusions-industrial-scale-renewable-energy-is-fossil-fuel

On a particular thread which featured the story link above, I wrote this detailed observation: “Ecocide is continuing BAU, which is precisely what “renewables” will allow for. They are nothing but a distraction for three reasons:

1. Building “renewables” does nothing to solve the predicament of energy use and energy growth. Replacing one type of energy with another is doing nothing but choosing a slightly less evil bad choice.

2. “Renewable” energy will never be able to replace the concentrated energy available in fossil fuels, and this fact is missed by both the MSM and most people in society. This is a recipe for disaster as the amount of fossil energy available inevitably dwindles and countries begin to fight for survival.

3. “Renewables” can not replace fossil energy in another way besides concentration of energy – each popular device such as solar panels and wind turbines only last around 20 years. This is if they survive that long – many have met an early demise due to extreme weather events. So not only do they represent a never-ending merry-go-round of maintain and replace, rinse and repeat; but due to continued energy growth, more are constantly needed as well. That is precisely what makes them every bit as unsustainable as fossil fuels.

4. Now, for a fourth issue that hasn’t been mentioned in the first three – building “renewables” doesn’t serve any truly needed service. Human beings and all other life forms on this planet don’t actually require external electricity in order to survive. So the ONLY species that benefits from building these devices is us. Sadly, building these devices kills off species through habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation along with pollution loading and other causes.

So in effect, these not only don’t solve the issue they were designed for, they continue the same ecological destruction that we are accomplishing through utilizing fossil energy. As we continue pulling the Jenga blocks out of the tree of life, how long will it be before we unwittingly become functionally extinct through using these to continue BAU? As one can clearly see, if humans want to continue living, they have no choice but to reduce fossil and all other energy use and bring it down to zero very quickly.

Sadly, I have little doubt that this will not be accomplished in any kind of reasonable time frame, IF AT ALL (we are currently going the wrong direction and have been for the last two decades DESPITE these devices having been built and installed), given what has transpired over the previous five decades even though we’ve known about these predicaments since then.” Here are several links to files that contain yet more links to more info:



22 responses

27 03 2019
John Doyle

This is a slightly different take on renewables from what I previously thought. My summary of renewables is ‘They cannot solve our energy needs.They are just a salve for our conscience.’

27 03 2019
Hugh Spencer

The bitter irony is that we are transmitting and reading this article by virtue of the massive application of fossil fuels – through rockets, satellites, massive expansion of electronic technology.. etc…
I guess we should use it while we can (and hope that the fossil-fuelled surveillance state doesn’t get us).
I think essential reading – would be Vaclav Smil’s discussions on the concept of “Energy Density” – another reality check – which also underscores why getting off fossil fuels is so difficult. They are so energy dense.
Also Heinberg’s latest http://energyskeptic.com/2019/book-review-of-heinbergs-afterburn-society-beyond-fossil-fuels/#comments
even if he appears to skirt population issues.
Trying to get western people to have the slightest idea of energy conservation (let alone living within one’s “energy footprint”) is incredibly difficult.

27 03 2019

Great link there Hugh, thanks……

27 03 2019

I don’t get it. Is this guy really saying we will have to survive without ANY FORM OF ELECTRICAL ENERGY USE? Obviously we are way over populated, need to reduce population (that will happen anyway) and we will need to adopt a simpler lifestyle. Can’t I run a ‘smoke engine’ to generate electricity at times? Can’t a community organise to make and renew mechanical/electrical stuff? Can’t we run and maintain a simple windmill sustainably?

27 03 2019

Eventually, of course….. it’s all made and maintained with fossil fuels, and when they’re gone, bye bye electricity. Just like it’s been for 99.99% of human history….

30 03 2019
Jonathan Maddox

Electricity is a natural phenomenon. There was lightning before there was life, there were electric eels before there were batteries, there were batteries before there were power stations, the first power stations ran from the power of water. We will not say “bye bye electricity” any sooner than we will give up other relatively recently-adopted tools like written language, domesticated animals and pottery.

Fossil fuels are not required for the manufacture and maintenance of electricity generators. Every industrial process involved can be done using electricity rather than with the burning of carbon-bearing fuels, usually more efficiently. This is true even for the smelting of metals; for aluminium, electrical smelting is the preferred method, whereas for iron it is a niche process, merely proven rather than adopted.

Fossil fuels will never actually run out. As they become scarcer (or sooner, as-and-if their usage is taxed in order to protect the world from the pollution incurred), we will gradually stop using them for primary energy. That will not mean they become completely unavailable for other things to which we ascribe a higher value than merely burning them for heat, light and power.

28 03 2019

27 03 2019

Just as you find one problem is not as bad as you first thought another is found to be far more serious. We are in such deep trouble on so many fronts, a perfect storm of problems.

27 03 2019

I hope Erik Michaels is living in a way that uses no electricity, and if he isn’t…why not?

28 03 2019
Dennis Mitchell

Living without all fossil fuels, and not using resources supplied by them. The only way to do that would be to have a functioning ecosystem that supplies your needs. Too bad the forest are cut down, and the rivers are damned. Too bad the plants that once supplied our diets have been replaced by corn. First we figure out what we need to do, then we better figure out how to make it happen. So far most will not even listen. Maybe it is time to listen. Maybe it takes more than Mike living without electricity. Maybe we need to stop letting them produce it. Now!

27 03 2019

Hi Mike, Your analysis will not be well received by many who have hung onto the idea that renewable’s were our saviour. But even if you were wrong we cannot keep building wind turbines to cater for growth in population and consumption .

27 03 2019

Something else, I found this speech by Barry Jones OA. https://www.deakin.edu.au › Research › Research news

He uses a tree and a chimney as metaphors for the environment (tree) and our usage (chimney) So the tree provides all sorts of good things just one of which is wood. And the wood via the chimney provides employment for loggers, millers, builders etc. as well as pollution . Sustainability occurs when regrowth matches logging which has to be done without damage to the forest. QED.

27 03 2019
Graham Palmer

Mike, what can I say other than we’re totally stuffed to put it politely.

On RN Breakfast this morning, Queensland LNP, Keith Pitt, member for Hinkler was proposing a new coal fired power plant be built in Queensland and a power station in NSW be recommissioned to ensure power prices are kept low and jobs in existing industries are maintained. Politics are everything and today’s economic problems trump tomorrow’s issue of the survival of the human species every time.

28 03 2019

And on 7:30 on ABC TV last night, on a series about our shocking power prices, hydrogen was again paraded as a replacement for fossil fuels……

Yeah, we are stuffed…

30 03 2019
Jonathan Maddox

Hydrogen can’t replace fossil fuels as a source of primary energy, because it isn’t one. It is a product of other sources of primary energy such as fossil fuels or electricity produced by non-fossil means, and of hydrogen-bearing chemical feedstocks such as water and/or methane.

But then, neither is refined petrol a source of primary energy; it is a product of crude petroleum.

Hydrogen can and undoubtedly will be one of the energy-carrying parts of any industrial system which replaces the current fossil-fuel-based industrial system. It is already a component of that fossil-fuel-based industrial system; replacing fossil-derived hydrogen with non-fossil hydrogen is a trivially simple task and can pave the way to the wider use of hydrogen for other tasks. As a combustible fuel, it will replace fossil fuels quite well in some roles. In other cases, it might be more useful as a building block for to producing synthetic fuels which are closer to the fossil fuels for which our existing equipment is built.

31 03 2019

You really don’t understand ERoEI, do you Jonathan…..

31 03 2019
Jonathan Maddox

I really do understand how ERoEI is defined, and how unclear its boundaries are. It’s very easy to pretend non-energy costs are in fact energy costs to make ERoEI look poor, or to push actual energy costs under the carpet to make it look good.

I’m far more concerned about pollution than I am about “declining ERoEI”, and so should everyone else be.

The energy return on wind and solar equipment is *excellent*, not as good as historically cheap fossil fuels or hydroelectricity to be sure, but improving and with more room for improvement.

I can only scoff at people insisting today that the ERoEI of solar and wind energy is in the low single figures. Real, practical energy returns achieved today by the operators of wind farms are around 20:1. (You can dig this out of the standardised figures in megajoules tabulated in Certified Environmental Product Declarations by EU operators, eg. https://www.environdec.com/Detail/?Epd=14779 ).

As for hydrogen production and use having below-unity ERoEI, so do engines, so does electricity distribution, so does raising livestock, so does petroleum refining. There is always less energy in the delivered product than there was in the primary energy source. There will always be losses at every energy conversion; these can and should be reduced where it is cost-effective to do so (it almost always is very cost-effective) but they cannot be entirely eliminated, not from fossil fuel burning, not from food production, not from electricity generation and not from hydrogen manufacture.

27 03 2019
John Doyle

Here is an article on energy slaves which is pertinant to our problems

28 03 2019
Dennis Mitchell

If only.

28 03 2019
Norris Thomlinson

This is a great summary of why “renewables” aren’t a solution to the crises initiated by fossil fuels and the dominant industrial way of life. Right in line with the Stop Fossil Fuels project in which I’m participating. Thanks for reposting this!

29 03 2019
Jackson Howard

The OP makes really solid points.

I see renewables as a gigantic fossil energy battery that may help a softer landing down the line. Same goes for countries that will be able retain working nuclear plants for a while. The real “winners” will be the ones with high levels of Hydro.

Thin film solar cells can maybe be produced on solar energy, since it’s less energy hungry and material hungry than mono and poly. But industrial scale renewables ? I can’t see it happening, especially with increased weather disaster intensities that can likely wreck something like an offshore wind farm.
To make matter worse, if your nice industrial scale renewable gets partially wrecked, you get a major drain on available ressources since their costs are front-loaded. Losing a 25yr lifetime windfarm with 2.5yr payoff time every 10 years is certainly not going to be “sustainable”.

I think that some countries could in principle make it work but that would require large scale investments *now* and the end point will still be nothing like a consumer economy.

In the end we know what a 1.5 ERoEI society looks like : medieval/renaissance era. We also know what a 50 ERoEI consumer society looks like. The question being : how does a 3-7 ERoEI ressource starved society facing climate change looks like ?

My bet is renaissance/early industrial with electric light and simple low power electronics/electrics. Most of the energy surplus will be sunk in battling climate change effects in non-failing states, certainly not in conspicuous consumption. Those who don’t or can’t will fail.

Because lets be real, climate change is going to be a major stone around our necks in a lower ERoEI world, one that will make keeping our collective heads over the water line really hard. I really doubt that an agrarian 1.5 ERoEI renaissance era society will have the energy surplus to deal with the effect of a +4°C warming.

30 03 2019
Jonathan Maddox

Very very hard to keep reading after “eventually, electricity will disappear altogether”. May as well say “eventually, the wheel will disappear altogether”. True enough, if/when intelligent life becomes extinct. I’d say that won’t be terribly long before the heat death of the universe.

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