Biden's Energy Plan: Sacrificing Goats to the Sun Gods
A number of documents have been published by the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party: Biden's energy plan, the Biden-Saunders unity manifesto and the party platform. A lot of the goals in these documents are generalities, promising everything to everyone, especially to groups that vote Democratic. One concrete goal is carbon-free electricity generation by 2035. This is a pointless goal on several fronts. Reducing U.S. CO2 emissions is a pointless exercise due to the fact that declining U.S. emissions are dwarfed by rapidly increasing emissions in China and India. U.S. emissions are declining due to increased use of natural gas, a low-carbon source of energy. The claim that CO2 will create an apocalyptic disaster is overwrought, without sound scientific basis. The Biden campaign ignores the fantastic benefits for agriculture of adding more CO2 to the atmosphere. The Biden campaign accepts as fact popular fake claims that not even the most extreme climate scientists would dare to advocate — that CO2 will create forest fires, floods, and sea level rise.
Wind and solar cannot be the instrument to achieve the (unnecessary) goal of 100% zero carbon electricity by 2035. Wind and solar are erratic and unpredictable sources of electricity. As long as wind and solar supply less than about 25% of the electricity in a grid, the grid can handle the erratic energy supply by throttling backup plants, usually natural gas plants, up and down to compensate for the ups and downs of wind or solar. When wind and solar go past the approximate 25% threshold, spells of excess wind and solar power appear. The problem is that wind and solar power are peaky, with peaks 3 to 5 times the average power. It may be possible at times to accept 80% wind and solar in some grids. But a significant amount of traditional power plants have to be online to provide regulation and compensate for the seesawing wind and solar. To get past the 25% wall requires some storage of electricity to flatten out the peaks. But battery storage is horribly expensive, easily doubling the cost of wind and solar. The cheapest electricity storage is pumped storage, a hydroelectric scheme involving two reservoirs. But pumped storage is still expensive and not broadly scalable, as it requires mountains and natural lakes to be remotely economic. Storage may get you to 50% carbon-free electricity, but certainly not 100%. Climate Scientists for Nuclear is a group of the most prominent scientific proponents of global warming. They denounce wind and solar and advocate nuclear energy for reducing CO2.
Biden proposes to put government money into various research areas that could propel the Biden program to rebuild the energy economy. The problem is that the impracticability of most of these schemes is well understood. Renewable energy advocates are desperate for some method to store electricity. Lithium batteries are too expensive and wear out too quickly. Pumped storage is expensive, especially if natural reservoirs are not available. Throwing money at research to solve intractable problems is a form of denial.
Biden's proposals advocate research on green hydrogen, suggesting that it can cost the same as conventional hydrogen within ten years. Conventional hydrogen is manufactured from natural gas, and the process releases CO2. You can make hydrogen using the electricity from windmills to drive the electrolysis of water. That method does not generate CO2, so it is considered green. Electrolysis splits water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen gas, like natural gas, can be used to power engines, or even generate electricity directly using fuel cells that turn hydrogen and oxygen back to water, generating electricity in the process. Hydrogen generated by using electrolysis and wind or solar electricity results in hydrogen fuel costing the equivalent of $4 per gallon of gasoline. Once you have the hydrogen, there is the difficult problem of storing it. Five times as much energy can be stored in the same pressure tank using natural gas instead of hydrogen. Hydrogen is difficult to store. Natural gas, a compound of hydrogen and carbon, is at least ten times cheaper than green hydrogen, costing the equivalent of thirty cents a gallon of gasoline. If you turn the hydrogen back into electricity, about two thirds of the original energy is lost, resulting in wind electricity that originally cost $80 per megawatt-hour now costing about $240 per megawatt-hour. Comparable natural gas electricity is about $45 per megawatt-hour. Hydrogen cannot be transported in existing pipelines because it attacks steel. Green hydrogen developed rapidly will be a wasteful government boondoggle, just like renewable wind and solar has been.
Biden is big on electric cars and buses. These are powered using lithium batteries. Besides the weight and cost of the batteries, the electricity still has to be generated to charge the batteries. Electric-powered vehicles simply move the point where CO2 is generated from the vehicle to the power plant. CO2 emissions are reduced when the power plants are nuclear or burn natural gas rather than coal. Natural gas–powered generating plants are more efficient than automobile engines. Cars in corporate fleets are often powered with natural gas, a much cheaper option than using lithium batteries.
One area where the Biden research proposals make some sense is his advocacy of better nuclear power. Unlike lithium batteries or green hydrogen, no fundamental discoveries must be made to substantially improve nuclear technology. Basic research is less needed than engineering development. Many of the engineering schemes for better reactors were developed in the 1960s and then abandoned under pressure from the hysterical anti-nuke groups. Reactors that are cheaper and safer are clearly on the horizon. Unfortunately, far more money is spent on totally useless renewable energy than is spent to develop better reactors.
Biden supports carbon capture and sequestration. This is a scheme to capture CO2 from power plant smokestacks and pump it underground. This ridiculous scheme is put forth to fool the coal industry into thinking it has a future under Biden. It is so expensive that it would make coal uneconomic. Suitable underground formations don't exist in many parts of the country. An accidental release of the stored CO2 could suffocate thousands of people. In 1986, a natural release of CO2 from a lake in Africa killed 1,700 people. CO2 is not toxic, but in large quantities, it can displace oxygen in the air.
Biden's energy plans have little relation to reality. He is simply genuflecting to the Religion of Green. He would give up the gains that have made the U.S. into an energy exporter. Most of his ideas are a collection of impracticable solutions for fake catastrophes thought up by the environmental left over the years. Except for nuclear, his program is about as useful as sacrificing goats to the sun and rain gods.
Norman Rogers writes often about energy. His Renewable Energy Is Dumb Energy app is here.