Reality vs Politics in Energy. Figures vs Words

As of 2023, 81.79% of the energy used at the planetary scale is generated from oil and gas plus coal, the main component of what is usually named fossil fuels (KPMG annual report, 2022). So, its consumption as a percentage of primary energy remained steady. In 2000, this share was 83.14%, less than 2% more than now (Our World in Data).  At the global scale, the reduction is insignificant and has a limited impact on the oil and gas industry.

Americans drive their personal vehicles about 2.3 trillion miles a year with 98 percent of their transportation running on petroleum or diesel fuels (US department of Energy). At the planetary scale, the share is 97%. We are far from watching electric ships through the Panama Canal of the North Passage. We are also very far from electric trucks crossing the intercontinental highways or electrically-powered aircrafts crossing the intercontinental skies with hundreds of passengers onboard.

Politicians, and NGO activists around the Globe have promoted green energy as the way forward with a very quick development. But the reality is different. The transition away from the fossil fuels is definitely way slower and it will take many more years to see a significant trend. Developed countries and especially European Union have imposed strict rules and conditions, investing trillions in “clean energy”. The result is… an over-regulated energy market and higher prices for us all.

Mara Roman, deputy head of the European Commission’s Office in Romania, said on 15 March this year that an additional €477 billion would be needed each year to achieve the European Union’s climate targets by 2030. That means €3339 billion in seven years!

The supporters of green energy would ask: why not more unconventional energy sooner rather than later? The simple answer is: it is not yet possible. In order to get the same amount of energy the mankind needs now from fossil fuels but from solar and wind the processing industries will need a lot of mining. Much more than 1000% compared with today’s activity. We will need lithium, graphite, iron, silicon, copper, chromium, zinc, cobalt, graphite, rare earth elements. They need to be identified and exploration normally takes many years (average of seven), pre- and feasibility studies also taking one-two years and… we need lots of money and specialists. Are they available? Not on a short term. The young generation is looking for easier jobs like in IT or mobile phone industry, not in exploration in remote areas with limited or no infrastructure. Banks and investment funds won’t decide to invest overnight.

The extracted metals would be needed as billions of batteries, solar panels, wind-mil blades, turbines, new generation engines and lots of other parts and components will be requested… Do not forget that these processes will require even more energy! By the way, a special warning: presently, the world is looking desperately for much more cobalt and lithium, but the known resources are very limited and identified only in a few countries. In addition, limited supplies translate into higher costs. The energy industry will need more and more rocks, which means much more mining.

The green technologies require much more materials, more diverse and much more energy will be consumed to produce the final result. The cost of the billions of batteries and hundreds of billions of solar panels is made about 60% of raw materials that we don’t have available. Or, at least, not on a short or medium term. And a decent estimation makes us thinking that this cost component will increase as time goes by, and the availability of the raw materials will be more and more limited. Up to present this was not a real issue: although the solar Photovoltaic (PV) is now the most rapidly growing energy generation technology—25% of total installed solar PV generation capacity was added in 2022 alone, PV’s share of global electricity generation rose from around 3.6% in 2021 to around 4.4% in 2022 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, US). Until now this wasn’t that important in the real world, as the share of solar and wind has been very limited. The very slow increase of the renewables because of the above-mentioned reasons and many others is easily ignored. The green technology advocates do not even mention the very high costs for replacing the battery cells of the electric cars, many times as expensive as a new vehicle. And what to do with the dead batteries? Are we ready to recycle them or to organize intelligent and environmentally-friendly waste industry? This will, of course, add to the general cost and the share will only increase in time.

But we cannot leave aside the large- and small-scale politics. Most of the future resources are located in P.R. China which, for many of the newly necessary minerals, is the only producer at the global scale. Developed countries, mainly from Europe and North America are fully dependent on imports from China. Just think how would the decision makers from Beijing behave regarding the export legislation and tough conditions they could and would impose to exports like minerals. The economically-advanced countries would fully depend on Beijing and politics will play a key role. The groups of states will play even more important games (e.g., BRICS, EU, ASEAN, MERCOSUR, ECOWAS etc.) as they will try to influence economical and strategical decisions in their favor on a market with more and more limited resources.

On the other hand, advanced countries from North America, Europe may have some important resources, but permitting is a nightmare and, in most of the cases, simply impossible. We want green energy but we ban exploration and mining for the necessary materials. What to do then?

In future mankind will certainly need much more energy. This trend was valid all the time in the past and will be the same in the future. We are far better at consuming energy than to generate it. And, as the humanity develops, everybody would like to live better and dream on wellness. This will mean more energy: more cars, more travel for leisure, better medical care. A medium hospital needs two-and-a-half more energy than a commercial facility for the same surface. Show me only one person who doesn’t fight for better medical care.

Japan is the fourth economy at the planetary scale in 2024. The Cloud, the global IT infrastructure already needs more energy than Japan. Data processing companies in Western and Central Europe closed their businesses and facilities as the energy cost became too high. This is presently valid in petroleum industry more than in other fields.

How our future world will look like? We don’t exactly know, but we know for sure that we will all need much more quantum computing, biotech, pharma, drones, robots and e-commerce, with all requiring more energy every day. New industries we cannot even imagine now will appear overnight.

My conclusion is we will need ALL KINDS OF ENERGY: fossil fuels, nuclear, hydroelectrical and, of course, renewable. We cannot get it all from the green energy. This could be possible only on a long-term future. This is a realistic conclusion based on figures and not on empty words used in politics.