Renewable vs. Nonrenewable Energy | All Aboard
Be it planes, trains, or automobiles… or boats or buses… all aboard is the universal cry this summer travel season. The one thing these modes of transportation have in common? They all need energy to run.
We are at a time in our energy evolution when there are options. Wind, solar, and the more recently developing wave energy are all becoming more viable options. To some they are preferable, because of concerns about carbon. But…
Are we really the point where we can supply all of our energy needs from just renewables?
A June 21 article in The New York Times entitled Traditional Sources of Energy Have Role in Renewable Future discusses this issue. The article’s author, Eduardo Porter, reports on two recent studies – one from 2015 that states that the US could be powered by 100 percent wind, wave and solar (WWS) by 2050, and the just-published response that asserts that we will need all energy sources for much longer.
We are certainly grappling with these issues locally.
Mr. Porter of the NY Times pointed out that, for too long, climate advocacy and policy have been infected by a hope that the energy transformation before us can be achieved deeply and virtuously – in harmony with nature. But the transformation is very likely to be costly. And though sun, wind, and water are likely to account for a much larger share of the nation’s energy supply, less palatable technologies are likely to play a part.
The photo below is of the Block Island Wind Farm, the Deepwater Wind project in the Atlantic Ocean offshore from Block Island, New York. Does this really meet the “harmony with nature” test? But I digress…
Mr. Porter’s comments describe Santa Barbara so well. But in Santa Barbara, the perceived “less palatable” energy source is the one that is improving the environment. Which brings us to Venoco.
In an opinion piece in the Santa Barbara News Press of Sunday June 25, Goleta resident Hector Mon describes how this issue is playing out in our own community. He states that a lack of ingenuity in how to balance economic and environmental concerns is “really stacking up.” He points out that many locals are happy about the prospect of Platform Holly’s decommissioning. But, as he says, ”It now looks like getting rid of Holly won’t be so simple. It is estimated that the cost of its decommissioning will exceed $100 million and the state is questioning its ability to foot the bill.” While there have been objections to the industrial offshore structure and oil and gas in general, he points out that, “By the same token, Holly and Venoco also provided locals with good jobs and paid hefty taxes to local and state governments. It has even been argued that it helped reduce natural oil seepage and made beaches more enjoyable.”
Renewable Vs Nonrenewable Energy Study Comparison
This real-world scenario provides on interesting example of the issues brought up by the modeling and analyses of the two conflicting studies. Both were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The first study, entitled Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes is by Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. His study asserts that it would be eminently feasible to power the American economy by midcentury almost entirely with energy from wind, sun, and water. What’s more, he believes it would be cheaper than running on fossil fuels.
The researchers of the responding study (a group of 21, from varying disciplines, led by Christopher Clack, chief executive of the grid modeling firm Vibrant Clean Energy), are of the opinion that relying on 100 percent wind, solar, and hydroelectric power could make climate mitigation more difficult and more expensive than it needs to be. Their study, entitled Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar shows that it is important to understand the distinction between physical possibility and feasibility in the real world.
Energy Consumption Projections in the United States
In evaluating our energy future, SOS consults data projections and analyses by a number of sources, but particularly those generated by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).Their Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) is published pursuant to the Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977, which requires the EIA Administrator to prepare annual reports on trends and projections for energy use and supply. The projections are based on their Reference Case (without variables) and compare historic and likely future energy consumption by source, as shown in the graph below.
According to the 2017 AEO, natural gas production accounts for nearly 40 percent of US energy production by 2040. Since 2005, technologies to more efficiently produce natural gas from shale and tight formations have driven prices down, spurring growth in consumption and net exports. Near-term production growth is supported by large, capital-intensive projects, such as new liquefaction export terminals and petrochemical plants, built in response to low natural gas prices. US natural gas consumption is expected to increase during much of the projection period.
In an article in NGI’s Daly Price Index, entitled NatGas Prospects Burn Bright in EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2017, EIA administrator was quoted as saying, “Natural gas production, we think, is actually going to go up quite a bit, with relatively low and stable prices, so that’s going to support higher levels of domestic consumption, especially in the electric power and industrial sectors, where we think there will be quite a bit of natural gas use,” EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski said in Washington, DC.
As for renewables, non-hydroelectric renewable energy production grows, reflecting cost reductions and existing policies at the federal and state level that promote the use of wind and solar energy. In the electric power sector, coal-fired plants are replaced primarily with new natural gas, solar, and wind capacity, which reduces electricity-related CO2 emissions. Notice that natural gas is still in this mix.
What’s the Most Efficient Source of Energy?
As EIA has stated, though, even as renewables rise, fossil fuels continue to dominate the US energy mix. Fossil fuels have provided more than 80 percent of total US energy consumption for more than 100 years. In 2016, fossil fuels accounted for 81 percent of total US energy consumption, the lowest fossil fuel share in the past century. In 2016, the renewable share of energy consumption in the United States was 10.5 percent. The greatest growth in renewables over the past decade has been in solar and wind electricity generation. EIA projects that they will continue to grow, as the graph shows, but to nowhere near the levels predicted by Dr. Jacobsen.
SOS has been educating the public on the idea that changing the nation’s primary energy source is a long-term process, and that the benefits of oil and gas exploration in Santa Barbara in particular are stronger than other locations because of the reduction in seep pollution. Our experience tells us that a significant technological breakthrough in the coming years could, by 2040/2050, provide us with a source of clean energy that far surpasses WWS – and that offshore oil production could be our energy bridge in the meantime.
So as Holly fades into the sunset… can we agree that “All Aboard” is the best way to move toward a secure energy future?