Fossil fuel divestment isn’t being thought through by renewable energy advocates
“Dear Aunty, is it true that we can’t make renewable energy technology without fossil fuels?”
Yes, it’s very true my loves.
Which is why renewable energy advocates that are calling on us to “leave it in the ground” need to be careful, because without oil, gas and coal, dears, we also won’t have any solar panels or wind turbines for two basic reasons.
Firstly, virtually every stage of making solar panels and wind turbines, for instance, involves the use of fossil fuels.
Take solar PV panels. It starts with the extraction of silica sand used to produce the silicon wafers. The huge diggers and dumper trucks used to do this don’t run on renewables, they run on diesel which, as we all know poppets, comes from oil. So, right away, if we left all known oil reserves in the ground from now on, the giant plant and machinery used in the very first stages of solar panel production would soon stop functioning.
The silica then has to be refined at very high temperatures to make metallurgical grade silicon that’s 99.6% pure, in a process that’s very energy intensive. It’s unlikely that process could be powered by renewables. Dr Cox from Cambridge University in England believes that a solar cell made using what’s known as the Siemens process would have to be in operation for at least 6 years just to recover the energy used in its production.
Then there’s wind. The steel used to make wind turbine towers is made from iron ore, which also has to be extracted using plant and equipment powered by diesel. It’s then heated in furnaces, sweeties, with coal added into the mix to perform the chemical reaction that turns iron into steel. You can’t have steel without coal.
And turbine towers are planted in concrete, which is made using cement – the production of which is one of the most energy and CO2 intensive processes in the world today, and powered by coal and oil.
Put simply, renewables technologies depend on fossil fuels very practically for their existence cherubs.
Then there’s the second reason why renewables depend on fossil fuels: investment.
Over the years, because of their dominance, fossil fuel stocks have provided investors with dependable returns on funds invested.
Because of the way our globally connected money markets function, dears, it is inevitable that money earned from fossil fuel investments is being used right now to fund a new wind farm somewhere or a new factory to build solar panels.
If all fossil fuels were left in the ground starting right now, development and investment finance for renewables projects would quickly dry up. There’s no getting away from that fact.
Then where would we be sweetpeas? That’s right, we’d be in trouble.
Now, apart from a select few, nobody could credibly argue that our use of fossil fuels shouldn’t be curbed – not least so we can elongate their availability. But the emphasis should be on using substantially less, not using none. And it should be done sensibly, in a way that doesn’t accidentally scupper our renewable energy goals by denying renewables technologies the very materials and funding they require to be successful pumpkins.
One last thought on this topic for you to reflect on: proponents of renewable energy regularly criticise the “subsidies” they say fossil fuels attract from governments around the world. But given that you can’t make renewables without fossil fuels and fossil fuel investment returns, that means that renewables themselves are subsidised to an even greater extent because, as well as direct government and taxpayer funding, they are also propped-up by fossil fuels as a form of indirect subsidy. When solar advocates claim that PV panels have fallen in cost so much that they’re close to grid parity, invite them to tell you what those panels would cost if there was absolutely no fossil fuel contribution to their production.
Aunty suspects it would be rather more expensive then.
Until next time xxx