By Harold Miller
The International Energy Agency warns of the hidden environmental costs of going green
The International Energy Agency, the world’s source of energy information for governments and partially funded by the U.S., has entered the debate over whether the U.S. should spend trillions of dollars to accelerate the “green” transition favored by the government. The plan encompasses using far less hydro-carbons (oil, natural gas and coal) which today supplies 84% of global energy needs.
The IEA recently published a 287-page report that reveals the hidden environmental costs of going “green” as the plan proposes.
The report assembles a largely ignored aspect of the energy transition. It requires mining industries and infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist. Wind, solar and battery technologies are built from an array of “energy transition minerals” that must be mined and processed. The world may not currently have the capacity to meet such demands. There are no plans to fund and build the necessary mines and refineries. And, if it was pursued at the quantities dictated by the goals of this energy transition, the world would face daunting environmental, economic and social challenges along with geopolitical risks.
The IEA stipulates up front that advocates of the transaction never mention that 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. And that is to bring wind and solar to within a 10% share of` the world’s electricity needs.
The IEA finds that with a global energy transition, as our government envisions, demand for key minerals such as lithium graphite, nickel and rare-earth metals, mining must increase by 4,200% to meet the need. We find that China has 80% of the global supply and the U.S.A. is not even a player yet. Spooling up production can’t happen overnight. It has taken, on average, 16 years to move mining projects from discovery to first production. This would put this program close to mid-century. The IEA may be the first agency to flag the geopolitical risk of this problem. Today the oil and gas market is characterized by diversity. The top three producers (the U.S. among them) account for half of the world supply.
Well hidden in the IEA report is a warning of “the high emissions of energy transition minerals or ETMs.” It is the key factor in determining whether or to what degree a clean energy machine actually reduces carbon dioxide emissions on net. In other words—obtaining energy transition machines could wipe out the emissions saved by driving an electric car.
Another important factor is that these so-called “clean energy” or “green” programs must be global to be effective. Right now, as things stand, Europe is at war. How do we work around that?
The IEA’s report sums up the matter of clean energy: “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.”