• Ian Sutton

Reality Check

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Reality check for alternative, green, renewable energy sources. Cannot always have what we want.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Much of what we read and hear about in the climate change world seems like a good idea, but, when subject to careful engineering and financial scrutiny, we find that these ideas does not meet the red face test. The fact that something can be done does not mean that it will be done. For example,

  • The fact that some new technology shows great promise does not mean that it can be implemented within a realistic time frame.

  • Different types of energy are not fungible.

  • The fact that demand for gasoline will “recover” following the crisis du jour does not mean that the gasoline will actually be available.

A transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources requires an enormous commitment of time and money. We need to be realistic as to what can be done. For example, we read endlessly that “we must” replace all fossil fuel powered vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs) by the year 2050.

A fast switch over from gasoline and-diesel powered vehicles to EVs is an effort to be encouraged. But can we convert the entire fleet within the next 29 years? Let’s do a quick check for just the United States.

There are approximately 300 million vehicles (cars, trucks, buses) operating in the United States. About 2.5% of the cars are EVs. In other words, we are effectively starting at zero.

In the United States annual sales of automobiles are around 17 million. If we add buses and trucks, total sales come out to be in the region of 20 million per annum. Sales for EVs in the U.S. are currently about 150,000 per annum.

Therefore, in order to meet the target of replacing the entire fleet by the year 2050, we see that we need to immediately,

  • Increase the annual production of EVs from 150,000 units to 10,000,000 units, starting right now.

  • The factories that currently make fossil fueled cars will have to be shut down and decommissioned. That is a task that is neither trivial nor cheap.

  • A huge new infrastructure of power plants, electrical grids, charging stations, battery manufacture and maintenance capability will have to be installed — once more inside 29 years.

The effort required to achieve these goals would be phenomenal, as would the financial commitment. There are no signs that we, as a society, are close to making that commitment. To reiterate:

  1. The fact that we want something to happen does not mean that it will happen. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”.

  2. Even if a new technology is feasible the issue of scale-up can create near-insurmountable problems to do with finance, political will and new Age of Limits constraints.

  3. We should support activities such as the changeover to EVs, but we do need to be careful about making wildly optimistic and unrealistic projections.

  4. If we are serious about having zero fossil fuels by the year 2050 then we will have to move away from a car-driving culture to a mode of living that involves much more public transport, bicycling and walking.

Reality check: replacing fossil fuels with renewables will be very difficult.