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Biden’s Not-So-Clean Energy Transition

May 13, 2021

By Paul Homewood


From Wall Street Journal:



The International Energy Agency, the world’s pre-eminent source of energy information for governments, has entered the political debate over whether the U.S. should spend trillions of dollars to accelerate the energy transition favored by the Biden administration. You know, the plan to use far more “clean energy” and far less hydrocarbons—the oil, natural gas and coal that today supply 84% of global energy needs. The IEA’s 287-page report released this month, “The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions,” is devastating to those ambitions. A better title would have been: “Clean Energy Transitions: Not Soon, Not Easy and Not Clean.”

The IEA assembled a large body of data about a central, and until now largely ignored, aspect of the energy transition: It requires mining industries and infrastructure that don’t exist. Wind, solar and battery technologies are built from an array of “energy transition minerals,” or ETMs, that must be mined and processed. The IEA finds that with a global energy transition like the one President Biden envisions, demand for key minerals such as lithium, graphite, nickel and rare-earth metals would explode, rising by 4,200%, 2,500%, 1,900% and 700%, respectively, by 2040.

The world doesn’t have the capacity to meet such demand. As the IEA observes, albeit in cautious bureaucratese, there are no plans to fund and build the necessary mines and refineries. The supply of ETMs is entirely aspirational. And if it were pursued at the quantities dictated by the goals of the energy transition, the world would face daunting environmental, economic and social challenges, along with geopolitical risks.

The IEA stipulates up front one underlying fact that advocates of a transition never mention: Green-energy machines use far more critical minerals than conventional-energy machines do. “A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car, and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired power plant,” the report says. “Since 2010, the average amount of minerals needed for a new unit of power generation capacity has increased by 50% as the share of renewables has risen.” That was merely to bring wind and solar to a 10% share of the world’s electricity.

As the IEA notes dryly, the transition is a “shift from a fuel-intensive to a material-intensive energy system.” That means a shift away from liquids and gases whose extraction and transport leave a very light footprint on the land and are transported easily, cheaply and efficiently, and toward big-footprint mines, the energy-intensive transport of massive amounts of rocks and other solid materials, and subsequent chemical processing and refining.
Spooling up production can’t happen overnight. The IEA observes something every miner knows: “It has taken on average over 16 years to move mining projects from discovery to first production.” Start tomorrow and new ETM production will begin only after 2035. This is a considerable problem for the Biden administration’s plan to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.

In what may become the understatement of the decade, the IEA concludes that such long lead times “raise questions about the ability of suppliers to ramp up output if demand were to pick up rapidly.” The conditional “if” is a discordant qualifier given the IEA itself has endorsed, and nearly all its member states have already pledged, a rapid transition. The clear consequence is that “deployment of clean energy technologies is set to supercharge demand for critical minerals.”
Credit the IEA for acknowledging that this will require a global mining boom that leaves in its wake all manner of environmental implications. “Mining and mineral processing require large volumes of water”—a serious issue when around half of global lithium and copper production takes place in areas of high water stress—and “pose contamination risks through acid mine drainage, wastewater discharge and the disposal of tailings.”
The IEA falls backs on the usual admonition that mitigating these risks will require “strengthening international collaboration” for everything from pollution to labor practices. But the history here isn’t promising. IEA data show that expanded ETM mining will occur mainly in countries with “low governance scores” where “corruption and bribery pose major liability risks.”

The IEA may be the first major agency to flag the geopolitical risks of the energy transition, again with copious data. Today the oil-and-gas market is characterized by supply diversity. The top three producers, among them the U.S., account for less than half of world supply. The top three producers for three key ETMs, however, control more than 80% of global supply. Here we find China utterly dominant while the U.S. isn’t even a player.
Well buried in the report is a warning about the “high emissions intensities” of ETMs. Energy use per pound mined is even trending up. This is no arcane nuance. It’s the key hidden factor that determines whether, or to what extent, a clean-energy machine actually reduces carbon-dioxide emissions on net. The IEA data show that, depending on the location and nature of future mines, the emissions from obtaining ETMs could wipe out much or most of the emissions saved by driving electric cars.


Most of this has already been discussed, but what is really significant is that this comes in an official report from the IEA, who usually slavishly follow the renewable agenda.

By the way, the WSJ report includes a video interview with Steve Koonin, which is well worth watching.

  1. May 13, 2021 6:11 pm

    One of the first steps in the fight back against these ignorant, virtue signaling politicians?

  2. Penda100 permalink
    May 13, 2021 6:40 pm

    The facts are clear and settled but will the True Believers (in the climate emergency) accept them? Or will they follow their High Priests aka Climate Scientists? The history of religion tells us the believers will follow the theology rather than facts or common sense.

    • Gamecock permalink
      May 13, 2021 8:14 pm

      True. Facts are inadequate tools against dogma.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      May 14, 2021 8:56 am

      History tells us believers become more entrenched and more violent and restrictive towards those who threaten their beliefs. And when a religion becomes the state religion, things get much worse

  3. Andrew Harding permalink
    May 13, 2021 7:26 pm

    For one minute let us assume, that this madness continues! Worldwide £Trillions are spent on zero emission ‘technology’.

    As a consequence mankind is impoverished, the World falls in to the worst economic recession we have ever known. Diseases like Rickets, Scarlet Fever, Typhoid return with a vengeance, but it will have all been worth it because the consequences of climate change would have been much, much worse.

    Meanwhile the world watches the NOAA website to monitor atmospheric CO2 concentration plateau, except it doesn’t, the rate at which it rises remains unchanged. Why? Because mankind’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is negligible, compared to that of Nature!

    Add riots and wars to control the limited food and energy supplies, to the other miseries that the Left have inflicted on humanity with their lies.

    The evidence for this was there for all to see during the Northern Hemisphere Spring/Summer 2020! Very few flights, roads deserted, factories and offices closed, no foreign holidays 88% of the world’s population staying at home, not needing to heat their homes, because that is the proportion of people who live in the Northern Hemisphere where central heating was not needed.

    The NOAA graph showing the rate of the rise in atmospheric CO2 remained unchanged during this period. The graph on the NOAA website is there for all to see, I downloaded it to my PC, in case they deleted it. Please visit the website and you will see exactly what I mean?

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      May 13, 2021 7:55 pm

      I got into a discussion with someone around May last year about whether lockdown would produce any discernable dent in the peak CO2 before it plunged naturally by about 7ppm as it does every year. I think we agreed that a ‘dink’ was possible,but I’m not sure I can see it.

      There’s a Josh cartoon showing the relentless rise of CO2 with all the various COP gabfests marked on the timeline. Says it all.

      • chriskshaw permalink
        May 13, 2021 8:45 pm

        I think it was Dr Roy Spencer that noted we would need 2x more reduction than the 11% drop we experienced to register on the mauna loa graph.

  4. Douglas Dragonfly permalink
    May 13, 2021 7:58 pm

    I’ve just been reading an article in the local media about students at a well respected local university.
    The students are saying they are suffering climate anxiety brought about by climate crisis.
    I wish I could say that you couldn’t make it up.
    But obviously somebody has !

  5. A man of no rank permalink
    May 13, 2021 8:04 pm

    Two great CO2 graphs Andrew. It will be interesting to see how this curve changes after COP26/Glasgow, their main purpose will be to reduce man-made CO2. Just look how the curve changed after Paris in 2015 – correct, it didn’t. Nature 1 Humans 0. Best to stop me there!

  6. Devoncamel permalink
    May 13, 2021 9:48 pm

    “The IEA data show that, depending on the location and nature of future mines, the emissions from obtaining ETMs could wipe out much or most of the emissions saved by driving electric cars.”
    If that’s true it renders the ICE car ban pointless. Not that it will make any difference.

  7. bluecat57 permalink
    May 13, 2021 11:11 pm

    hydrocarbon fuels are renewable but the rare earth minerals needed for green energy projects are not

    Any thoughts?

  8. Mack permalink
    May 13, 2021 11:38 pm

    Who knew? Well, actually, most of us here have done for donkey’s years and have been banging on about it ad nauseum. It will be interesting to see whether any of our green obsessed leaders unbuckle themselves from the cockpits of their kamikaze policies or whether they carry on taking off regardless. I think most of them are too far gone down the sucide cult route so it’s going to be ‘chocs away’ and they’re going to try and take the rest of us with them.

  9. May 14, 2021 12:43 am

    The planned decarbonisation has no merit except to the parasites, wreckers and plonkers aiming for it.

    Amazing that it attracts such high powered support, mixing folly, careless ignorance, groupthink and a death wish as bad as starting a war with no benefits.

    Enough to make sceptics despair.

  10. Phoenix44 permalink
    May 14, 2021 8:53 am

    I do love the claims that Climate Change will cause wars over scare stuff but solving Climate Change will somehow not cause wars over scarce stuff.

  11. MrGrimNasty permalink
    May 14, 2021 10:06 am

    Hilarious; with energy and general inflation (started before the pipeline hack) and fuel supply issues in the USA, and the Middle East about to go up in flames – as a direct result of Biden policies and presence in the W/House – BBC news has gone back to running lengthy new hit pieces on Trump.

  12. Robert Roth permalink
    May 14, 2021 4:07 pm

    Renewable energy activists have developed the “Social Cost of Carbon” as a contrived concept to attack fossil fuels that have made modern life possible. By any reasonable measure the social cost of carbon is negative. It’s time we started talking about the “Social Cost of Renewable Energy”, something that is real and very large.

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