By Bjørn Lomborg: On Renewables

Lomborg gets it right until the punchline in which he neglects to mention that we need to either repeal the laws of physics and chemistry, or reduce our population and consumption.

Denial is amazing.

We need to get real on renewables. Only if green energy becomes much cheaper – and that requires lots of green R&D – will a renewables transition be possible.




No, renewables are not taking over the world anytime soon.

We have spent the last two centuries getting off renewables because they were mostly weak, costly and unreliable. Half a century ago, in 1966, the world got 15.6% of its energy from renewables. Today (2016) we still get less of our energy at 13.8%.

With our concern for global warming, we are ramping up the use of renewables. The mainstream reporting lets you believe that renewables are just about to power the entire world. But this is flatly wrong.

The new World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency shows how much renewables will increase over the next quarter century, to 2040. In its New Policies Scenario, which rather optimistically expects all nations to live up to their Paris climate promise, it sees the percentage increase less than 6 percentage points from 13.8% to 19.4%. More realistically, the increase will be 2 percentage points to 15.8%.

Most of the renewables are not solar PV and wind. Today, almost 10 percentage points come from the world’s oldest fuel: wood. Hydropower provides another 2.5 percentage points and all other renewables provide just 1.6 percentage points, of which solar PV and wind provide 0.8 percentage points.

Neither will most renewables in 2040 come from solar PV and wind, as breathless reporting tends to make you believe. 10 percentage points will come from wood. Hydropower provides another 3 percentage points and all other renewables provide 6 percentage points, of which solar PV and wind will (very optimistically) provide 3.7 percentage points.

Oh, and to achieve this 3.7 % of energy from solar PV and wind, you and I and the rest of the world will pay – according to the IEA – a total of $3.6 trillion in subsidies from 2017-2040 to support these uncompetitive energy sources. (Of course, if they were competitive, they wouldn’t need subsidies, and then they will be most welcome.)

Most people tend to think about electricity for renewables, but the world uses plenty of energy that is not electricity (heat, transport, manufacture and industrial processes).

Actually, if the world miraculously could make the *entire* global electricity sector 100% green without emitting a single ton of greenhouse gasses, we would have solved just a third of the total global greenhouse gas problem.

As Al Gore’s climate adviser, Jim Hansen, put it bluntly: “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and [the] Tooth Fairy.”

We need to get real on renewables. Only if green energy becomes much cheaper – and that requires lots of green R&D – will a renewables transition be possible.

Data for graph: “A brief history of energy” by Roger Fouquet, International Handbook of the Economics of Energy 2009; IEA data DOI: 10.1787/enestats-data-en, and World Energy Outlook 2017, unfortunately not free,

Hansen quote:…/mail…/2011/20110729_BabyLauren.pdf

The world emitted 49Gt CO₂e in 2014, and all electricity/heat came to 15Gt or less than a third,


2 thoughts on “By Bjørn Lomborg: On Renewables”

  1. Along with their futility relative to the scale of society, certain renewables are causing major damage to natural landscapes, specifically industrial wind turbines. It’s too big an aesthetic price to pay for such meager benefits. Wildlife mortality and noise are other drawbacks that will only grow as these machines spread. It’s strange to see such big intrusions promoted as green.

    It’s also a fallacy that wind turbines are actually fighting fossil fuels. Such large structures require mining, smelting, new access roads and concrete foundations, which can’t exist without fossil fuels at every step. They’re just a new spin on old ways and the industry functions like any large construction business. Wind power’s ERoI is dubious, especially since electricity doesn’t directly replace the primary fossil fuel, oil. Most technologies are trending toward smaller and lighter whereas wind turbines keep getting bigger and uglier. It’s like inverse progress.

    Greens don’t seem to grasp how many wind turbines would actually be needed to make much of a difference (a meager one at that). Covering the world with several million of them (e.g. Jacobson’s scheme) would obliterate too many remaining non-industrial viewsheds. That’s a bleak future for people and wildlife. How can anyone really think it’s improving the environment?

    I think solar PV on every possible built-up surface is a good goal. Even if solar can’t solve the energy equation, it has a small footprint and could work in the context of scaled-down energy use, which we need to do anyhow.

    As for Lomborg, I don’t think he’s a true environmentalist, more of an anthropocentric pragmatist. There’s probably no solution to the mess people have created, except for a drawn out shrinkage with hard times ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

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