Correct, Telegraph, Accomplishing Net-Zero Means Misery, Totalitarianism, and Miracle Technology

A recent post in UK-based The Telegraph explains how Net-Zero carbon dioxide emissions in the West is technologically impossible in the timeframe given by world governments without implementing global authoritarian-controlled command economies and drastically reducing the Western living standards. This is true. The amount of electricity production needed to maintain an all-electric grid is not feasible with renewables alone.

The article, “The green energy net-zero plan will require a command economy,” written by Michael Kelly, Emeritus Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, drills down into the numbers involved-in cost and in power generation — considering mass electrification of the United States, as a case study.

To reach net-zero, Kelly argues, transportation, industrial, and domestic heat will all need to be electrified, and the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity “will have been greatly expanded in order to cope with the first two projects, and will have ceased to use fossil fuels.”

He points out that steel production currently cannot be done with only electric power, that most houses will need to be rewired for higher electrical current, and that houses will need to be insulated better to make heat pumps effective. After calculating the impossibility of building enough battery storage for wind and solar, Kelly concludes that “a net-zero grid with a large proportion of renewables simply cannot be built.” This is partially because huge amounts of steel and concrete will be needed, which cannot be made using electric power.

Kelly wraps up his analysis:

So we can see that the infrastructure parts of the net-zero project which are theoretically possible would cost comfortably in excess of $35 trillion and would require a dedicated and highly skilled workforce comparable to that of the construction sector as well as enormous amounts of materials. Net zero would also require several things which today are completely impossible: scalable non-fossil energy storage, very high temperature electrical industrial processes, serious electrical aviation and shipping. There would also be the matter of decarbonising agriculture. These things, if they can even be achieved, would multiply the cost at least several times over, to more than $100 trillion.

That some activists assert this can be done without a decline in living standards and a command economy is “a blatant falsehood,” Kelly writes, and “[t]he silence of the National Academies and the professional science and engineering bodies about these big picture engineering realities is despicable.”

Kelly’s analysis is spot on – as Climate Realism has shown in previous posts, here, here, and here, for example, not only do renewables underperform, but the costs of making just the United States net-zero by 2050 have been estimated to be in the range of a staggering $275 trillion. That figure is estimated assuming there are no technological failures, no physical constraints like lack of mineral resources or transportation issues, no delays, or other problems that will realistically occur.

What’s more, the Biden administration has misled the public on how much land net-zero will require, claiming that it needs “less than one-half of one percent of the contiguous U.S. land area.” The report cited by the Department of Energy actually notes that wind farms alone would require nine times as much space.

The Energy Information Administration recently released a report that likewise throws cold water on the idea of reaching net-zero without serious economic pain. The report estimates that global energy consumption and the related CO2 emissions will increase by 2050, “as global population growth and higher living standards push growth in energy consumption beyond advances in energy efficiency.”

This is despite the fact that they also project that non-fossil fuel energy, including nuclear, will expand during that time, but “that growth is not sufficient to reduce global energy-related CO2 emissions under current laws and regulations.”

As Kelly’s analysis makes clear, only a globe-wide command economy can stop the growth in energy consumption, and to stop that growth means that countries that currently only consume a small amount of energy because they have less access to electricity and industrial power would need to remain in energy poverty. High-energy use countries will need to use less. This means more poverty, and despite this sacrifice, when the numbers are crunched, net-zero by 2050 still remains impossible.

Some activists and politicians may be unaware of what they are asking for when they demand net-zero, but it’s an important engineering problem to confront realistically. Already, early retirements of coal power plants in the United States without any suitable replacements are causing serious threats to the energy grid, according to grid operators. Blackouts have already begun in some regions, which is unacceptable to most who depend on reliable power for their safety (think hospitals and winter heating) and comfort.

Hopefully, seeing these numbers clearly illustrating the dangers and material impossibility of achieving net-zero will wake up some of The Telegraph’s audience, including political leaders, some of whom it seems are finally beginning to question local net-zero policies. All of this is unsurprising to those of us who have long paid attention to the material, financial, and human resource requirements of net-zero. It is a positive sign that a mainstream publication like The Telegraph was willing to publish Kelly’s analysis.

Linnea Lueken
Linnea Lueken
Linnea Lueken is a Research Fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy. While she was an intern with The Heartland Institute in 2018, she co-authored a Heartland Institute Policy Brief "Debunking Four Persistent Myths About Hydraulic Fracturing."

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  1. Perhaps Heartland could arrange a conversation between Kelly and Pope Francis. 😉

    Kelly might be an excellent guest on a future Climate Roundtable.

    I believe his numbers are too conservative. For example, he does not account for the losses in the DC => AC and AC => DC conversions and voltage changes in his discussion.

  2. Totally ludicrous that the USA will abandon fossil fuels for these radical reasons just because some authoritarian regime says it will be utopia for the planet! Total nonsense, these are the same maniacs that protested against nuclear power with a plant not built in 50 years! We’d be energy independent if Carter didn’t cave to these environmental threats from total neophytes and climate zealots!


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