The Crash Course - Chapter 8: The Green Energy Myth

So much hinges on getting the energy story right. If we get it wrong, then prosperity declines, and if we get it really wrong then it’s far worse and the population declines.

The thing about energy is that it is THE master resource. With it everything is possible. Without it, nothing is possible.

The other thing about it is it doesn’t care if humans don’t understand it, or aren’t ready politically to do what’s necessary. It cares not if humans are operating under a false set of beliefs or pushing a false narrative.

The only thing that energy obeys is the laws of physics.

Currently, the West is laboring under a set of false beliefs and patently absurd narratives about how much it can rely on green energy and how fast it can achieve full reliance on green energy only.

The Green Energy Myth is therefore about some simple math and placing those against recent decisions (such as those that arose during COP28 in December 2023) and a few other realities. When put in one place, the only conclusion is “Well, that’s impossible!”

There’s simply no way for us to transition smoothly let alone completely over to Green Energy. It can’t happen. Physics and basic resource constraints tell us that much all by themselves.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Miraculous Discovery

But, but, but there is this…<heavy sarc>

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<heavy sig> This article sounds so much like the oil industries’ propaganda that they’ve been pushing to their workers to keep them motivated. My hubby worked for Shell in the 80s and my B-I-L works for a Conoco contractor today, the rhetoric is the same as this Salton Sea article, we have centuries worth of oil under this ground here at Prudhoe (pretty much played out now), ANWAR, Alpine, etc. So now we have enough lithium to build hundreds of millions of EVs. What else do we need for these? How the media tries to make everything one shiny thing x what we want = perfection. Let’s all go celebrate…ugh. How I wish I could get my kids to see this, but they are in their 40s, successful and just won’t fully embrace their perfect lives are going to hell sooner than later. I’ve made small inroads, but it seems the generation of the 80s who attained success are struggling accepting this eventuality. I hope it’s not too late for them.


Yep. Gotta read all the way to the bottom of that article:

This is certainly a compelling development in the very long saga of the Salton Sea. And it’s one of those buzzy topics that I’m sure we’ll hear about a lot over the next year. But still, it’s a long bet to seeing this project bear any fruit, if it even should. The Los Angeles Times makes an interesting case, saying that no company has yet been able to exact lithium from the underground brine, and it’s a costly, complicated endeavor, with the salt alone quickly corroding equipment.

Not to mention the potential political hurdles in making this happen, as well as permitting and costs of getting work crews out to a region with very little infrastructure in place, and surmounting any opposition from mining – although the Salton Sea is likely to be more in the clear in terms of that.
I'm pretty certain that technically sufficient lithium exists to create the batteries we'd want. I am equally certain that the pace of developing those deposits will be too slow and too late to meaningfully change the equation. Articles such as these do little to inform about the pace, scale, and cost of the projects before us. For example the article says:
Of course, finding a way to harness and extract the lithium from a geothermal brine at a commercial scale is a daunting task, but a few companies are already working on it and have secured large investments to develop technology.

The California Energy Commission also gave a $6 million grant to Berkshire Hathaway Energy, as well as a $1.46 million grant to Controlled Thermal Resources a few years back to develop extraction techniques.
LOL We're talking about needing billions and billions and the article frames a combined $7.46 million (with an "M") as 'secured large investments.' I just can't see it their way....

Solar As Fossil Fuel Extenders

Yes, but solar looked good on paper. :wink:
It seems to me that there is a big difference between the projected cost of solar and wind, and the actual cost. This often happens in engineering. Things that look promising on the drawing board sometimes cost far more when we implement them.
My question is whether solar might still have a purpose as a “fossil fuel extender” even if it is more expensive and can only be used at certain times. I hear that solar has an EROEI of about 6, meaning we gets 6 units of thermal energy out of the cells over their lifetime per unit of energy used to build the cells. If so, can it be worth the effort to make those cells, even if the net cost is higher than burning fossil fuels?
Suppose somebody came up with an additive you could put in your tank that gives you six times the gas mileage. Would you use it? You would probably first ask the price and the detrimental effects on your engine. Suppose that a car traveling with the additive costs about the same overall per mile, and the additive is in no way worse than burning gas. If that was true, then it might be worthwhile for the government to offer incentives to use that additive. We would extend our effective reserves of oil by a factor of six, which would be huge.
In the case of solar, the price per kilowatt appears to be close to competitive with the price per kilowatt for coal. Regarding the impact on the planet, I don’t know which is worse. Solar impacts the environment with huge mining operations and with eventual disposal of old panels. Coal of course, is also quite nasty. But the net effect of solar on the environment might be comparable or better compared with burning six times as much coal.
So, do we promote solar as a “coal extender”, making our coal last longer?
By the way, this is only about using solar as long as we have coal, not about using solar to eventually replace coal. That is a much harder issue, since we don’t even know if we can make solar panels efficiently without the fossil fuels that are used in the ovens to make them now. It is possible that solar is helpful only as long as we have coal? It might be able to give us fossil fuel junkies a few more highs before we need to kick the habit.

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I’m with you Merle, using other forms of enegy to extend oils life expectancy is the logical way forward. However coal is not in short supply, I live on a reserve of Brown coal that would last decades if the want was there. A fuel additive that is available is Hydrogen, adds about 25% to the tank. It’s just an electrolysis unit, and there are plenty of useless versions out there to put you off the idea so be wary.

I might add the caveat that solar could extend only a small fraction of the coal that we burn. Specifically, it could extend the coal that is used to make electricity when the sun is shining. If we use some of that coal to make solar panels, then we probably get a net increase in energy out of that coal, and that is probably worth doing, even if the cost per kilowatt-hour is a little higher.
But we cannot use solar to extend the vast amount of coal that is used for high-temperature industrial heating applications, at least not until coal prices skyrocket. And we might not be able to economically use solar to extend coal by charging batteries for transportation or extended hours usage.
But if solar can be used to extend the small fraction of coal for which it makes sense, than that is probably worth doing, provided any additional economical and environmental costs involved are reasonable.

Spot On…

Professor David Ruzic, physicist U of IL - Urbana Champaign developed an energy course that provides a science-based, lay-person accessible description of the mechanisms humans have devised to produce energy
The class can be audited (no cost) on and/or videos can be found on YouTube @illinoisEnergyProf
This is one topic where everyone ought to be able to agree on basic facts

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Germanium Source

A quick internet search the biggest source of germanium is extraction… from coal fly ash

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So, burn more coal more quickly to achieve our green energy dreams? Is that what you’re saying?

Table Source

Chris, do you have a source for that Table 15.2 Quantity of Metals…? I’d like to do some additional calculations. Thank you.

I have a PDF, but I’d have to see if I can share it…Simon is in the process of getting it published. But you can access his work here:
Not ideal, it’s a video.
You can Google his name and “quantity of metals required to manufacture” and see if a print version is available…?

Multi Million Solar Farm’s 4 Year Life

Related to this important podcast is news of a giant 5MW solar farm turned into a toxic dump by a single storm.

Thank you, Chris.