OK – Mike Stasse has found another Michaux. At first this new contender – Mark Mills – had a smooth manner and calm assertions. But within a few minutes I was already concerned. Then I did further research and the alarm bells went off!
On this page:-
- Strange bedfellows
- Mills does not get that economies of scale take time
- Mills does not get renewables ratios
- Mills does not get the exponential function
- Mills does not differ from Michaux
- Mills does not represent the IEA’s claims about metals
- Mills DOES get thoroughly TROUNCED by Ars Technica.
Mike Stasse has once again decided to quote and promote a strange ally – Mark Mills. I know Mike to be a man who loves nature, hates big oil and coal and the damage climate change is doing to our world – and can’t wait to see oil peak and begin to decline. But he is pessimistic about renewables.
Sometimes – in Mike’s enthusiasm to BE pessimistic about renewables – he will make strange bedfellows. I wish Mike would slow down and study his latest Youtube crush. Do “due diligence” and all that. One can live in hope, but given Mike’s history of promoting total and utter frauds – I don’t have much.
Because if Mike had done just a little digging, he might not have promoted this right-wing redneck science-denying climate-hating Tea-Party Trump-type, a darling of climate denying Prager U and the Heartland Institute – who also says fossil fuels are “almost inexhaustible“. He’s even made it onto the Desmog Blog hitlist for being such a clean-tech hating, fossil fuel promoting Denier. So he HATES climate science and peak oil concepts. But also hates renewables… so it’s OK for Mike to promote him? Um…. Mike…. (shakes head sadly.)
Mills does not get that economies of scale take time
Mark Mills whines about $5 trillion dollars being spend on clean tech in the last 15 years – and then based on this cost sneers at how on earth we’re going to afford the next 3 fold expansion. But the global energy budget is $10 trillion dollars every year. That clean energy cost (IF we’re going to take his word for it!) would average about $333 billion each year over 15 years. For context, government tax breaks to big oil are about $500 billion!
But here’s where Mills conveniently ignores the exponential function. You know the old adage about how a drug company might charge a dollar a pill but it only costs them 5 cents to make? It paints the drug company as a money-grabbing evil tyrant. But the FIRST pill cost them $350 million! They need to be reimbursed for all their time and money in inventing this pill. Well – renewable energy is a bit like that. You have to put big money into it first to eventually get the economies of scale that bring the prices down!
So it’s just WRONG to harp on about the $5 TRILLION that we spend scaling up renewables to the point where they are now the cheapest form of electricity in human history! Solar is 1/4 the cost of nuclear (Lazard) and wind is about 1/3. Sure you then have to Overbuild and also build 2 day’s pumped hydro for firming.
But the point is, that $5 TRILLION drove the cost of renewables down tenfold! They’re now 10% what they were. He talks about a 3 fold increase by 2030? Just as a rough illustration but IF we go with Mill’s $5 trillion till now – we’ll only pay 1.5 TRILLION for a 3 fold increase. That’s how much prices have dropped.
Mills does not get renewables ratios
And he whines about renewables being only 3% of global POWER – but if he had said electricity it would be different. As a fraction of electricity renewables are at 30%. Add nuclear and we’re 40% there! After all – we are going to Electrify Everything. Also, that 40% of clean energy achieves more per unit of energy. As we Electrify Everything, more gets done with less. Electric motors turn the energy they get into more work than fossil fuels you carry somewhere only to burn. EG: Petroleum cars waste 80% of their energy – electric cars use nearly 80% of theirs! In other words – those solar panels on your roof get more done per unit of energy to the car.
Mills does not get the exponential function
OK – so now that original $5 TRILLION has given us the cheapest electricity in history – it’s going to explode. For the last decade Australia has seen solar doubling every 4 years. This is exponential growth. It’s growing faster than oil did in the 20th century – which only doubled every decade. It’s exponential. It starts small, but FINISHES BIG! Australia will be 80 to 90% renewable by 2030!
Mark sneers and whines about how small solar is – but ignores the economic and growth realities. He – like most of us – is going to be stunned by what happens in the next decade. This is where I agree with Mike Stasse – and I’ll let him say it (click here for about 30 seconds.) Unfortunately humanity’s greatest shortcoming is its inability to understand the exponential function! I’ve been reading about this stuff on and off for years – and sometimes I even forget how it works. Imagine you know 2 things: a petri dish has bacteria that’s just been put in it and it’s going to double every minute – and the petri dish will be full in an hour. When is the petri dish half full? In 59 minutes! That is, exponential growth can be unnoticeable for ages – and then suddenly in the last few growth spurts does enormous and profound things. This can be bad – as in the growth of consumption of limited resources – which is Mike Stasse, Simon Michaux’s and now Mark Mill’s CLAIMS about renewable energy and EV’s. Or it can be good – if we’re building renewables from abundant materials that CAN meet our needs.
Mills does not differ from Michaux
It’s just boring. Here we go again!
Batteries only: Like Michaux, Mills brushes off pumped hydro. Well he doesn’t seem to really mention it. At 4:35 Mark Mill’s just asserts the IEA, IRENA and World Bank all say we’re only going to be using BATTERIES to backup the grid. Except – they don’t. The reports I’ve linked to in the line above all talk about pumped hydro. They are very big organisations and have a variety of reports. Australia’s biggest names in renewables have used satellite topographical maps that show the world has 100 TIMES the sites we need. Pick the best 1% of off-river pumped hydro sites, and we’re done.
Fancier metals: Do I have to repeat this again? Really? While wind and solar and batteries CAN use rare earths – most wind and solar brands ALREADY DO NOT or NEVER HAVE! This guy really is just Michaux 2.0. It’s clickbait rubbish.
Check this out – sodium batteries are a commercial product already selling 30% cheaper than lithium batteries. They’re just not ‘sexy’ EV batteries yet – as they’re not energy dense enough. But with the grid where you can consider pumped hydro dams for storage – size does not matter! But they are working on chemistry and tricks to make sodium ready for EV’s.
So IF they ever become cheaper than pumped-hydro (wow what a world that would be!) we hypothetically could backup the grid with batteries. It’s SEA-SALT! At 34 kg per cubic metre of seawater – it’s not like we’re going to run out! Right now there’s even a role for maybe 4 minutes of sodium battery storage for the grid – to allow pumped hydro a little time to ramp up to hit the grid at the right frequency.
Sodium grid and home batteries means we can prioritise all the lithium for EV’s.
Now, if Mark Mills is meant to be quoting from the IEA – why does he keep raving about cobalt and nickel? Why doesn’t he realise they are yesterday’s news – at least in terms of grid storage? Sodium exists – and is much cheaper than lithium ion for grid. LFP exists – and is in half of Tesla’s cars!
Refer to this gem of a paragraph (from page 3) of an IEA report.
“There are other variables affecting demand for minerals. If current high commodity prices endure, cathode chemistries could shift towards less mineral-intensive options. For example, lithium iron
phosphate cathode chemistry (LFP) does not require nickel nor cobalt, but comes with a lower energy density and is therefore better suited for shorter-range vehicles. LFP share of global EV battery supply has more than doubled since 2020 because of high mineral prices and technology innovation, primarily driven by an increasing uptake in China. Innovation in new chemistries, such as manganeserich cathodes or even sodium-ion, could further reduce pressure on mining. Recycling can also reduce demand for minerals.”
Yeah – don’t trust Mark Mills to represent the IEA! (Facepalms!)
Mills does not represent the IEA’s claims about metals
Mills claims he is basing his figures on the IEA – but then claims the inrease in metals could be from 700% to 4000% – or 7 to 40 TIMES as much growth in metals. But what does the IEA actually say?
“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 plant. 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 in new investment has risen… …An even faster transition, to hit net-zero globally by 2050, would require six times more mineral inputs in 2040 than today. ”
Hmm – Mills isn’t given to exaggeration much? Hey – what do you expect from a climate denier who also thinks we’re never going to run out of fossil fuels? But I grant that six times is a lot. It may not be smooth. Renew Economy just had a world expert on about lithium, and prices ARE going to stay high for the next 3 to 4 years. It’s a lot – but as I have repeatedly shown – it’s in common and abundant materials. And remember what high prices do? Stimulate discovery and development. What do we need for the energy transition? Discovery and development.
OK – I’m actually getting bored of these people. It’s time to take this home.
Mills DOES get thoroughly TROUNCED by Ars Technica.
I’ll hand it over to a professional environmental blogger. Again – I almost can’t look! (winks). This article comments on Mill’s Prager U nonsense.
Pure nonsense: Debunking the latest attack on renewable energy
What a terrible anti-renewable-power video reveals about the US energy market.
JOHN TIMMER – 3/1/2021, 11:52 PM
Our editor-in-chief obviously hates me. That’s the only conclusion I could reach after he asked me to watch an abysmal attack video targeting renewable energy—a video produced by a notorious source of right-wing misinformation.
But despite its bizarre mishmash of irrelevancies and misdirection, the video has been widely shared on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it, or maybe you just to want to be ready when a family member brings it up in an argument. What, if anything, is true in this farrago of bad faith?
Yes, it’s awful
The video is hosted by “Prager University.” My only previous exposure to the organization’s videos had been this excellent one on the Confederacy by Colonel Ty Seidule, a professor of History at West Point who has since been placed on the Pentagon commission that will examine bases named after Confederate generals. Seemed legit!
Now that I’ve had to look more closely, however, it turns out that Prager U is not a university—it’s run by a talk radio host. Its videos frequently contain misinformation, especially when the subject is climate change. The content is so bad that Google, which is often slow to react to misinformation on its platforms, has slapped fact checks on a number of Prager U videos.
Even without the Prager U branding, the host of this video would cause some concern. Mark Mills is associated with the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank with a long history of rejecting any government involvement in markets. This has left the group with a reflexive loathing of any attempts to address global warming.
Mills himself is not necessarily a reliable source on renewable power, as he’s been heavily involved in companies focused on nuclear power and fossil fuel extraction. Mills has also spoken at the climate meeting hosted by the notorious trolls at the Heartland Institute.
All that is to say that my expectations here were low; the reality turned out to be worse.
The problems with the video go beyond simple matters of bias; the whole thing is just terribly argued. We can’t possibly go into detail on all of the problems, but we can list a few issues that stood out.
- Mills complains that our best solar technology is only 26 percent efficient.But that’s only true for silicon panels; our best, most expensive panels can clear 40 percent efficiency. The focus on efficiency, however, is also a distraction, because solar panel efficiency is already high enough for solar farms to be economical.
- The same issue arises when Mills complains about the efficiency of wind turbines. Is it as high as we would like? No. But who cares? Wind turbines already generate power economically. Improvements would be terrific, but they aren’t necessary to make wind and solar work cheaply in the real world.
- Mills suggests that the only solution to the peaks and troughs (or “intermittency”) of wind and solar is batteries. But there are plenty of additional options, like compressed air storage, pumped hydro, or even fossil fuel plants with carbon capture.
- Mills focuses all his attention on what he considers to be the limitations of lithium batteries. But there is plenty of research on other battery chemistries that use different metals entirely.
- Mills argues that the lack of batteries is why wind and solar power aren’t producing more than three percent of the world’s power. Note that he’s using “power” to get this figure. If instead he used “electricity,” wind and solar now produce over 10 percent globally, starting from zero a few decades ago.
- Mills claims that lithium and cobalt are rare earth elements. They are not. This isn’t important to his argument, but it’s extremely sloppy.
- Mills then says he has environmental concerns about the resource extraction needed to build solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. This a valid concern to have! But it ignores the massive environmental damage caused by fossil fuel extraction and the production of equipment to burn it.
- Mills does a similar thing with human rights abuses in places where these materials are sourced. Again, a worthy concern. But it remains a problem for fossil fuels as well.
- Mills acts like it’s not possible to recycle any of the hardware involved in wind, solar, and batteries. This is an area where work remains to be done, but as a blanket statement, it’s certainly not true.
- Mills calls our fossil fuel supply “almost inexhaustible.” Come on. This is just obviously not true.
- Mills compares the rate of oil extraction to the rate of power generation by wind turbines… for no obvious reason whatsoever.
Ironically, Mills closes his mess of arguments by saying, “We live in the real world.” But the video presents no evidence that he does.
Overall, the video shows a sloppy disregard for facts and offers a biased presentation of the ones Mills gets right, along with a lot of misdirection. If solar panels were so inefficient that we would need to pave over all of Arizona and New Mexico with them, then yes, that would matter. But they’re not, so why does Mills even bring it up as a concern?
There are some valid issues here, of course. Mills is right that environmental degradation, abusive labor practices, and repressive governments plague our supply chains. But they plague all our supply chains—not just those for renewable energy. And he’s correct that we haven’t figured out how to recycle wind turbine blades that reach their end of life. But again, that sort of issue isn’t unique to renewable energy.
Critically, the one thing missing from all of this is a recognition of the risks of climate change, which is the whole reason we’re trying to shift to wind and solar as quickly as possible. That is apparently because Mills doesn’t see much in the way of risks. But here in the real world, those risks are considerable and rising. No discussion of renewable power is competent if those risks are ignored, yet Mills ignores them.
So yes, the video is terrible. But I’ve also grown to think it’s significant, and not just because it has found a huge audience on social media. The video signifies two things.
First: a decade ago, the same video would have been about why climate change either isn’t happening or isn’t a risk. The fact that this one isn’t about climate change is a clear indication of how badly that fight has been lost by those who want us to keep using fossil fuels. We’ve seen record temperatures year after year, and all the things we expected to see have arrived with them: raging fires, massive storms, and droughts. Sure, a handful of people remain unconvinced, but that population has shrunk to the point where nobody pays them much attention.
Second: if the fight about the fact of climate change is over, it has also grown increasingly irrelevant. In the US, President Biden now promises four years of pushing for expanded renewable energy. And the economics are in place to drive renewable power regardless of policy or the environment—which explains why red-state Iowa generates 41 percent of its electricity from wind power. In many areas of the country, wind power is now cheaper than the fuel for a natural gas plant. A zero-emissions grid is now relatively cheap. As a result, 80 percent of the power added to the US grid this year will be emission-free.
The economics are now such that utilities in much of the US will install as much renewable power as their grid can manage while keeping the lights on, as it’s now the cheapest way to get power—even if you already have more fossil fuel plants than you need.
And that’s “the real world” that this video fails to see, a world where there’s no good reason to continue using fossil fuels at the level we have been. So if you don’t have good reasons to oppose renewables but still want to see fossil fuels expand, you go with whatever bad reasons you can come up with.
Which nicely explains this video.