Net Zero grid batteries alone would bankrupt America

Senate Budget Committee chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) cites "the climate crisis" at almost every opportunity. President Biden calls it a greater threat than nuclear war.  They and their allies champion "carbon-free" electricity generation by 2035 and nearly fossil fuel–free energy by 2050.

Achieving "net zero" carbon dioxide emissions will be painless, they assure us.  Costs will be so low that you'll need a magnifying glass to see them.  Governments merely have to enact mandates and provide subsidies, and the transformation to "clean" energy will just happen.  Almost like in a fairy tale.

Here in the real world, however, we would need literally millions of weather-dependent wind turbines, billions of equally unreliable solar panels, millions of half-ton battery modules for vehicles, billions more modules to back up intermittent electricity generation, millions of transformers, and tens of thousands of miles of new transmission lines.

All these technologies must be manufactured from metals, minerals, and petroleum extracted from the Earth, via mining on scales unprecedented in human history.

The dollar costs alone — just for a U.S. transformation — are almost incomprehensible.

Science and policy analyst David Wojick calculated that just the batteries needed to back up wind and solar electricity generation in a "net zero" USA would cost $23 trillion — America's entire 2021 gross domestic product (GDP) — and probably many times that.

Energy and technology consultant Thomas Tanton found that battery backup to replace current U.S. fossil fuel electricity — and convert vehicles, furnaces, water heaters, and stoves to electricity — would cost at least $29 trillion in initial outlays.

Trillions more would be needed to cover financing, repairs, maintenance, replacements, burying broken and worn out non-recyclable equipment, and building systems strong enough to survive hurricanes.

Professional engineer Ken Gregory determined that grid-backup battery costs could reach $290 trillion (12.6 times the USA's 2021 GDP), based on actual 2019 and 2020 hourly intermittent electricity generation data, rather than annual average data utilized in the other studies.

None of these estimates includes the costs of turbines, panels, transmission lines, or transformers.

Energy analyst Francis Menton estimated that New York's plan to procure 24,000 megawatt-hours of battery storage would provide only 0.2% of what the state would actually need as backup.  But even that would require 300,000 Tesla Long Range 80-kilowatt-hour battery modules — before New York mandates electric automobiles and home heating and cooking systems.

Each of those modules weighs over 1,000 pounds and holds 6,000 individual lithium-ion cells.  Each one contains 25 pounds of lithium, 60 pounds of nickel; 44 pounds of manganese; 30 pounds of cobalt; 200 pounds of copper; and over 550 pounds of aluminum, steel, graphite, plastics, and other materials, energy analyst Ron Stein reports.

To manufacture each module, we must mine 30,000 pounds of cobalt ore (much of it with child labor in the Congo), 5,000 pounds of nickel ore, and 25,000 pounds of copper ore, plus inject and extract 25,000 pounds of brine to get the lithium.

Backing up New York's peak summertime electricity needs for just 45 minutes (those 300,000 battery modules) would require 3,750 tons of lithium, 9,000 tons of nickel, 6,600 tons of manganese, 4,500 tons of cobalt, 30,000 tons of copper, and 82,500 tons of other materials.

Together, we'd need to mine more than seventy-five million tons of ores for those New York grid-backup batteries — after removing at least as much overlying rock to get to the ore bodies.

Backing up California's currently planned wind and solar electricity generation would require nearly 310,000,000 long-range modules.

Imagine the batteries, materials, and ores that we'd need for the entire USA — or world!

Processing those ores into finished metals requires acids and other chemical processes and results in extensive toxic wastes that cause horrific air and water pollution if not handled properly.

This is absolutely not clean, green, affordable, ecological, or sustainable.

The bottom line: "Net zero" is aptly named — if what is meant is the sum total of our nation's bank account and natural resources after it's implemented.

Craig Rucker is president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), which is spearheading Net Zero Reality Coalition efforts to better inform voters and Congress about the actual monetary and ecological costs of transforming our economy to "renewable" energy.

Image: Daniel Lee.

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