Doomed Planet

Maths is Hard for the Green-Minded

Politicians and climate alarmists are running what amounts to a promises auction about getting the world to zero net emissions in ten to thirty years’ time. It’s easy to bid as you will never be held accountable, you look virtuous and bids cost nothing, at least for the time being.

The best bid drama yet is from Extinction Rebellion, whose ferals were blocking traffic in Melbourne last week, as in other cities, and waving signs demanding “Zero emissions by 2025”. Among the more respectable bidders are the Australian Academy of Science’s 500 Fellows, who want net zero emissions by 2050.[1] They’ve cheered on state governments pledging likewise.

But here’s the problem: the 2050 game can only be played by those willing to ignore maths and engineering. Do the sums and it’s just pixie dust or, more accurately, fraud. What follows are some calculations and projections. I’ll provide the formulae lower down.

# Street blockaders: Your zero-by-2025 goal would require Australia to create the equivalent of an emissions-free Turkey Point, Florida nuclear power plant – nearly the output of Hazelwood in Victoria – each 11 days from now to January 1, 2026. That’s 33 nuclear plants per year.[2]

# The Greens and Australian Conservation Foundation[3]: Your zero-by-2040 goal would require the equivalent of one Turkey Point plant each 43 days from now to January 1, 2041. That’s eight and a half plants a year.[4]

# Labor Party, Academy of Science and all state governments (except the sensible NT): Your zero-by-2050 goal would require the equivalent of one Turkey Point plant each 65 days from now to January 1, 2051. That’s five and a half per year.

# The Morrison government: You claim to be locked-in to net-zero at 2050 because your predecessor Turnbull, via Greg Hunt, signed on to the 2015 Paris Accord. Well, the Accord specifies a review of targets every five years by each signatory, so you are free to dump the zero-2050 nonsense in 2020-21. Go for it!

Such nuclear plants, essential for reaching zero-emissions, would cost about $US9 billion each in America. That’s $A13 billion in Australia — or heaven-knows-what by the time the CFMMEU has ransomed the jobs. The costs, therefore, for our required 170 nuclear plants is about $2.2 trillion. For comparison, the entire Australian GDP last year was only $1.4 trillion. This is broad-brush stuff. Every technical tweak augments the cost and impracticability.

Forget the tree and tinsel, this is what Christmas looks like for the renewables’ rent-seekers.

I’ve provided the Australian numbers courtesy of a template from Dr Roger J. Pielke Jr, writing in Forbes and published on September 30. He’s a long-term IPCC author on weather disasters and his degrees include one in maths. Incidentally, he’s also a research expert on cheating in world elite sports.  

Last June, Theresa May’s UK government made itself the world’s climate champion, signing into law a program for zero net emissions by 2050 (previous UK law was an 80 per cent emissions cut by 2050). UK Labour joined the auction by bidding zero net emissions by 2030. Pielke says that globally, a 2030 zero-emissions target would need deployment of more than four Turkey Point plants a day, and for the US, several Turkey Points a week. A commenter adds, “And who’s gonna build them? Millennials with degrees in woman studies?”

Maybe you don’t like nuclear plants and would prefer zero emissions via those statuesque wind turbines. Substitute 1500 wind turbines of 2.5MW to equal each Turkey Point plant. For the “moderate” zero-2050 goal, that involves Australia adding 23 turbines a day (161 a week) from tomorrow until January 1, 2051. That’s about 250,000 turbines in total. Each bloc of 1500 turbines needs close to 800 square kilometres of ground, so pity help the bats and birds.  Turbines installed in penny packets would squander even more land. Conservatively, a quarter of a million turbines will need about 130,000 square kilometres — twice the area of Tasmania.

Another wind-tubine casualty.

For the US, the wind turbine numbers required are 1500 a day until 2050, eventually covering the whole contiguous country in windmills and an additional “wet belt” of windmills two miles thick off the entire coastline.[5]

This zero-emissions crusade is madness on stilts. The developing world (China and India for starters) has no intention of strangling their economies with expensive and unreliable renewables. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has assessed energy and emissions trends for the period from 2018 to 2050 and says that by the latter date developing nations will account for nearly 70 per cent of global energy use (60 per cent today) and 75 per cent of human-caused CO2 emissions (66 per cent now).

The EIA forecasts that the West’s energy growth will dwindle and emissions reduce. Worldwide fossil-fuel energy use through 2018-50 will climb 25 per cent and CO2 emissions by 22 per cent as poorer nations chase energy for prosperity. In other words, the West’s multi-trillion-dollar “tackling” of global warming is irrelevant.

Moreover, fossil fuels are raw material for a host of plastics and synthetics essential to modern life. Work out the implications.

It’s not as though any meaningful global switch from fossil fuels is already under way. Each day humanity is moving in the other direction: more fossil fuels. In 2018 the world added more than 280 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE) of fossil fuel consumption compared with 106MTOE of carbon-free consumption, says Pielke, citing BP. To move towards net-zero, all of those 400 MTOE additions ought to be carbon-free, while replacing and retiring 400 MTOE of existing fossil fuel consumption. “In a round number,” he remarks., “the deployment rate of carbon-free energy would need to increase by about 800 per cent.”

All the non-considered factors in Pielke’s analysis seem to make his estimates conservative. For example, he doesn’t allow for the global resources demanded to build myriads of nuclear plants or millions of turbines, which wear out in 15-20 years.

Obviously, each new wind turbine will go on a less optimal site for power, and cross-interference further weakens their output. Engineers point out that real-world power systems have to cater for daily and annual peaks, hence deployment estimates based on average power needed are way too low. And no self-respecting business or institution (think Amazon and hospitals) will rely on renewable electricity without having a diesel-type generator in the basement for emergencies or orderly shut-downs. How would that work in net-zero-emission 2050?

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) calculates that just to replace current US electricity consumption with wind power would need 580,000 turbines. How many more turbine equivalents would be needed to replace non-electricity energy use, which beats electricity numbers by a factor of three or four?

Consider rail networks (140,000 miles in the US, 36,000km in Australia). If they were all electrified to cut diesel emissions, how would the electricity be generated and what battery back-up could move a freight train? 

Pielke’s simple formulae go like this: Global fossil-fuel consumption, 2018 – 11,743 MTOE (million tonnes of oil equivalent)[6]. Output of Florida’s Turkey Point 1400MW nuclear plant, 1 MTOE. Days left till end-2050 – 11,037. Global deployment of nuclear power required by 2050 in Turkey Point units, more than one per day. To include forecast energy growth of 5800 MTOE (1.25% a year to 2040), add half a Turkey Point per day. One Turkey Point nuclear output equals 1500 wind turbines of 2.5MW each.

The recent BP Statistical Review of World Energy has fossil fuel energy use for USA and Australia. BP puts Australia last year at 133 MTOE. With assumed 20 years growth of usage at 1.25 per cent p.a., the task by 2050 is to get rid of 170 MTOE. Divide 11,037 days by 170 = one nuclear plant per 65 days. Concurrently, we’d also need to be decommissioning the equivalent in fossil-fuel power sources.

Pielke concludes, “When you see an ‘auction of promises’ in climate policy for emissions reductions, ask instead for rates of deployment of carbon-free energy technologies and rates of decommissioning of existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Then do the math, and see if it adds up.”

Actually, there’s a final twist to this folly. The idea that CO2 is the control knob for the globe’s intricately complex and chaotic climate is based on simplistic computer models which one top modeller has shown to be junk. Numerous recent studies of temperature impacts from CO2 doubling put the sensitivity at or below the bottom end of the IPCC range  of 1.5 to 4.5degC. or half the IPCC’s “best estimate” on which the great CO2 scare is based. If those studies are right, CO2 increases pose no threat to humanity and may well be beneficial.

Tony Thomas’s latest book, The West: An insider’s tale – A romping reporter in Perth’s innocent ’60s is available from Boffins Books, Perth, the Royal WA Historical Society (Nedlands) and online here 


[1] Press release:“The Academy has previously called on Australian governments to implement policy measures to reduce carbon emissions over the coming decades with the ultimate goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

[2] Turkey Point, 1400MW. Hazelwood (coal) 1600MW. Liddell NSW (coal), 2000MW

[3] ACF wants zero net by “2040-50”

[4] One route favored by the Greens is “by reducing the demand for material goods”.

[5] The turbines would need 3.3 million square miles while the US contiguous area is only 3.1 million square miles. The shoreline is 95,000 miles.

[6] BP Statistical Review of World Energy

21 thoughts on “Maths is Hard for the Green-Minded

  • bruce says:

    Some equivalent calculations for a solution involving batteries would have been informative as well. The numbers may have been even more off the planet.

  • en passant says:

    I cannot thank you for this realistic and logical article because any moment now the QoL Resident Klimate Kult MacBot Troll will post his repetitive mantra chant at us all.
    I believe it is easily provable that a +2C increase in average global temperatures will be hugely beneficial to us all.
    The extension to the local fossil-fuelled power generator 32 km from my home has been completed so the coal-barges pulling in each day to supply it have increased by 30%. It is now one of the top-ten coal-fired power stations in the world, so my supply of cheap, reliable electricity is guaranteed forever. Hooray!
    As an aside, some of the project managers and engineers who worked on the extension were Australians made redundant by the closure of power stations in Oz. They have taken their skills overseas so, as Oz declines economically, they are providing the means for other countries to build their economies and prosper. Are we the clever country with the smartest planet-saving pollie-wafflers, or …. what?

  • Biggles says:

    Well written and well researched, Tony. Lord Monckton asks the warmists a most pertinent question. What is the ideal temperature for the Earth?. Nobody answers.

  • Michael.Fry says:

    I may be wrong, but I see no evidence in the cited Australian Academy of Science’s report that it’s 500 Fellows support it. Rather, I see that the report was authored by eight scientists, all of whom are known to believe that computer programs can predict the future of the planet.

  • Tezza says:

    Bravo, Tony.
    Here’s an elaboration that the green-left can understand, even with only post-modern quals:
    While there’s a lot we don’t know about climate (such as what started the current interglacial, and what will end it) we know a lot about where the sun shines most, where and how often and how strongly the wind blows, and how close those sites are to existing transmission lines and consumption centres. Investors, even just rent-seekers, get the most return from finding those sites and using them first.
    All those sites were used with the initial rash of solar farms and windmills.
    Every successive expansion of solar and wind will require more distant, less suitable sites, with less frequent sunshine hours or less wind in the optimum, goldilocks range that allows a windmill to produce closest to its nameplate capacity. These less profitable sites will require greater investment in transmission lines to bring intermittent power to more distant demand centres, more investment in batteries to store less-regularly generated power, and so on, and on.
    All this is clear from first principles. The environmental cost-benefit ratio gets worse with every expansion: more land despoiled over a disproportionately wider area, and so on.
    The whole charade of climate change mitigation is totally nuts. We are, I consider, nearing the end of a recently-worsening mass hysteria.

  • Tony Thomas says:

    Thanks Michael Fry, you’re quite right. I cited 500 Fellows in the hope that some may wake up to what the executive is putting out in their name.

  • Andrew Campbell says:

    By necessity my wife and I are ‘off grid’ with 49 square metres of solar panels. If 20,000,000 Australians had the same it works out (I think …) at 140 square kilometres of panels. Who would want that near their city? Not in My Backyard! And what indigenous group would want that on their land? And what about the rare red spotted frog the greenies are sure to discover? And what about when the sun don’t shine? And when the grandkids come mid-winter and leave everything on? And what about the rare earths needed for the panels and batteries? And disposing of the lot every 20 years (if you’re lucky)? And wat about the generator you need to back it up anyway? ‘Tell ‘em they’re dreaming!’

  • Michael Fry says:

    Sadly that goes for many professional societies Tony. Great article by the way, thanks.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    Andrew Campbell:
    140 square kilometres of panels in one place is a square of about 12km x 12km. We could do that in a canter in any state you choose to name, including the ACT.
    Tony: If you ask me, you are in the position of the town drunk who has been warned by his doctor that he will be dead inside a year if he does not get off the grog, and who responds by going on a trawl for any doctor who will tell him what he wants to hear. And so finishes up in the premises of a quack who has been struck off the register for too much love of the stuff likewise.
    As I have said before on this site, I sincerely hope you are right, and that all those 198 scientific organisations in the world that endorse the mainstream science, including the CSIRO, AAAS and The Royal Society are wrong, and also damn near 100% of the professional climatologists of the world as well. But I am not prepared to bet the future on it. Nor am I prepared to dismiss the idea of any role for AGW in the present mainland-wide and record-breaking drought.
    I read (in ‘The Land’ of all places) the following interesting definition of agriculture: “that process whereby land is used to turn petroleum into food.”
    For example, the hydrogen used in synthetic urea production comes not from water (by electrolysis) but less expensively from oil and gas wells. So as that source of fossil carbon declines, costs in agriculture will start to rise with the sky as the limit, and with them, the cost of food in the supermarket.
    Though we may not realise it, we are all largely eating and wearing fossil carbon.
    Coal-fired may well be the cheapest and most reliable source of electric power we presently have, but even if we ignore the CO2-AGW issue, it is very arguably not the best use for the coal. Coke for iron ore reduction is IMHO more important, because the likely next-best (hydrogen) is nowhere near as easy to use and handle. In the not-so-distant future, our descendants may well be driving on unsealed roads, in vehicles without pneumatic tyres made of synthetic rubber, as these are largely likewise made from crude oil.
    You also mention the importance of plastics. These are nowhere more important than in modern agriculture: particularly in the form of cheap and very durable polythene pipe: essential these days for all farm water systems. My understanding is that polythene is best sourced from petroleum, in which case it will likely run out with the last of the oil wells.
    Nowhere do you acknowledge that fossil carbon resources are finite, and should therefore be made to last as long as possible. But what you are pretty convincing about, for which I commend you, is the heavy dependence of our present economy, both nationally and internationally, on coal; and implicitly on the problems which will inevitably arise as it runs down. (According to the second of the sites below, petroleum will last another 50 years, and coal another 115. Whatever it is, in historical terms it is not long.)
    Your article is full of calculations re say the number of wind farms that would be needed to provide ALL power presently used in Australia. That leaves us all in a crisis of economic adjustment, but despite what you say, renewables can help decrease dependence on coal (something this journal has never found attractive for some unfathomable reason) and bail us out for power generation until we get to controlled fusion, which has been to date always just over the horizon.

    But the sky is still the limit for renewables, particularly here in Australia, and particularly for solar electricity and low-grade water heating by direct solar, no matter how much land gets taken up. After all, the one commodity we are not short of in this country is land. The future will also most likely be a mix of renewables and post-uranium nuclear with fossil carbon reserved for uses where there is no substitute; if humankind is sensible. Renewables should be welcomed, particularly by the coal industry, as the more they supply electric power, the longer the one-off, never-to-be-repeated coal supply will last. But for some strange reason, the opposite is always the case.
    Otherwise, whether you realise it or not, what you presage is a dystopian coal-free future. Modern industrial civilisation has been built on coal; that’s for sure. But as the coal inevitably runs out, even ignoring AGW, civilisation could well collapse. That is the danger, and I am sure Jared Diamond (IMHO the world’s leading expert on such matters) would agree.
    There is no book up there in the sky in which it is written the future has to be crisis-free. And as I said, for this you also have to be an AGW ‘skeptic’, and against the mainstream science: like the rest of the Ostrich School of Climatology.
    lLinks next.

  • Tony Thomas says:

    Thanks Ian Mac for your comments. Re the science academies all endorsing CAGW, the Australian Academy has only 10-20 “climate scientists” out of 540, and of those most are not in “attribution” (via modelling) but other areas, e.g southern wind patterns. So the bulk of members have no more expertise on the validity of the CAGW hypothesis than I have. They have similar expertise to the 30,000 scientists who have signed an anti-CAGW petition. This would apply to all the academies. NONE have polled members about their views. If they ran a secret ballot, my bet is that a significant minority would dissent.
    As for peak oil, predicting it is a mug’s game. I remember Rex Connor telling parliament in 1974 that Australia’s oil would run out in 1984. The BP Energy Review I quote forecasts rising production of oil gas and coal to 2050.
    Why should we care about further out? Would it have been sensible for Australians of 1960 to make sacrifices for our current welfare in 2020 (we’re ten times better off than they were). Anyway good to have a discussion.

  • Michael Fry says:

    There was one serious poll of membership undertaken regarding AGW that I recall, by the American Meteorological Society. From memory, it came down roughly 50/50 on whether humankind was having a significant impact on climate.

    I have noted that when having conversations re AGW with intelligent lay people, one of the first things nearly always said is “all scientific organisations say so..”. The takeover of professional bodies has been an important part of the
    Long March

  • ianl says:

    @Michael Fry

    The GSA (Geological Society of Australia) eventually polled their membership on this question. They (the executive) were forced to it by the threat of mass resignations.
    Although the actual poll results are still withheld, even from the membership, following the poll the GSA executive re-issued a public statement recanting on AGW rhetoric and stating that the issue remains unknown.
    As it stands, I did resign after about 30 years continuous membership because of the hijack. I feel no compulsion to rejoin, even after the backflip. The impertinence of withholding voting results can have that effect.

  • rod.stuart says:

    Excellent work, Tony.
    A point worth making is that all renewables (including hydro) fail to deliver the three things that the electricity customer wants. They are affordability, reliability, and security.
    Any push to include more than 30% ruinables in a generation and distribution system will produce a system prone to failure, due to the lack of large synchronous machines. Without al least 70% of these in the system, instability is assured in power quality, voltage and frequency control .
    Another point worth mentioning is an accounting of the trillions of dollars that have been pi$$ed against the wall as a sacrifice to Gaia over the years. What astounding benefits could have been derived from this dosh had it been spent sanely?

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “Another point worth mentioning is an accounting of the trillions of dollars that have been pi$$ed against the wall as a sacrifice to Gaia over the years. What astounding benefits could have been derived from this dosh had it been spent sanely?”
    You mean spent on coal-fired generation, so we could convert the coal into $$$$ in the coal magnates’ pockets ASAP, and not have to worry about any future need for the stuff: like in reduction of iron ore, steel and cement making, gas production over future years and centuries: stuff like that?
    You’re damn right. What has posterity ever done for us?

  • rod.stuart says:

    Your inability to differentiate fantasy and reality appears to have transferred to an inability to differentiate thermal coal and coking coal.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “Your inability to differentiate fantasy and reality appears to have transferred to an inability to differentiate thermal coal and coking coal.” To you, maybe.
    The coal of the Sydney Basin, which I studied some years back at Sydney University as a geology student, can support what I cited: “reduction of iron ore, steel and cement making, gas production” as well as power generation (eg Wallerawang, Vales Point, Wangi, Eraring.)
    I suggest you visit one or more of those power stations and as well, the Port Kembla steelworks (for which the iron ore comes in by sea from interstate.) They all run off the same coal measures.
    Why not ask your teacher to organise a class excursion?

  • vandyke says:

    Euan Mearns, Norman Rogers, Matthew Shaner, Steven Davis, Nathan Lewis, and Ken Caldeira have independently calculated that for England and Scotland (Mearns), Texas (Rogers). and all of North America (Shaner et al), 390-800 watt-hours’ storage are needed per watt of average capacity to provide firm power. Current Tesla PowerWall2 price is $US 0.587 per watt hour. All-electric USA would need (at present demand) average 1,700 GWe capacity. Do the math: $US 383 trillion for the low-ball estimate. Batteries last about five years. Do the math: $US 76 trillion per year. US 2016 GDP: $US 18 trillion. Do the math: FOUR TIMES TOTAL US GDP FOR BATTERIES ALONE, EVERY YEAR!

Leave a Reply