E = mc2. It’s the world’s most famous equation, but what does it really mean? “Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.” On its most basic level, the equation says that energy and mass (matter) are interchangeable; in other words, they are different forms of the same thing.
Meanwhile, the TV series Star Trek also uses a mass-energy equivalence formula – V = w3c where V is velocity, C is the speed of light and W is the warp factor. But Star Trek is science fiction you say—OK, I’ll concede that, but there’s also a bit of real science in Star Trek. And real science tells us that it’s impossible to do what Captains Kirk and Picard do on our TV screens—well, at least not for the next 1000 years or so, give or take a century– why? Because the laws of physics simply won’t allow it.
And speaking of the laws of physics and mathematics, a week doesn’t pass without some politician demanding an energy future that’s based on wind, solar and batteries and of course free of hydrocarbons. So let’s come back down to earth for a moment and look at a few real-world equivalences; and regardless of one’s opinion regarding climate change and the Green New Deal, there are two troubling details the world’s most famous bartender, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has failed to take into account—physics and math.
Consider the following:
- The two-percentage-point decline in the hydrocarbon share of world energy use entailed over $2 trillion in cumulative global spending on alternatives.
- Renewable energy would have to expand 90-fold in two decades if these sources are to replace global hydrocarbons. But keep in mind that it took 5 decades for global petroleum production to expand ten-fold.
- Over the next twenty years a hundred fold growth in the number of electric vehicles on the roads would displace just five percent of global oil demand.
- Replacing U.S. hydrocarbon-based electric generation over the next 30 years would require construction programs 14 times greater than at any time in recorded history.
- For security and reliability, the United States’ strategic reserve has an average of two months of national demand for hydrocarbons in storage at all times. Today, even if we used every utility-scale battery in existence, less than two hours of our national electricity demand can be stored.
- It takes the energy equivalent of 100 barrels of oil to fabricate a quantity of batteries that can store the energy equivalent of a single barrel of oil. Yes, you read that correctly.
- China dominates global battery production with its grid that’s 70 percent coal-fueled, which means Chinese batteries will create more carbon dioxide than is saved by replacing oil-burning engines.
- It costs less than $0.50 to store a barrel of oil or its equivalent in natural gas, but it costs $200 to store that equivalent energy in batteries.
- The shale revolution drove down the prices of natural gas & coal, the two fuels that produce 70 percent of U.S. electricity. But electric rates haven’t gone down, rising instead 20 percent since 2008. Why? Direct and indirect subsidies for solar and wind consumed those savings.
To be clear, I’m not a climate denier—I’m a realist, and the reason I tire of this fantasy called the Green New Deal is because there are only three types of people who believe it; the naive, the uninformed and the ideologues. There are many things we can do to address climate change beginning with the acknowledgment that the GND is about as realistic as my BMW reaching warp speed on I-70. So before spending trillions on a phantasm, it’s suggested here that we first actually look into the economics, physics and mathematics of the matter.
By the way, and sorry about this Trekkies, but Captain Kirk never said, “Beam me up Scotty,” look it up.