Yeah, we know. It’s climate change.
Not according to Alice J Friedemann. The problem is energy. We won’t have any, and we won’t have any very soon.
Alice Friedemann has been writing about energy and related fields on her website (energyskeptic.com) for over a decade. Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy,1 condenses ten year’s worth of her writings into a highly readable, rigorously researched, and at times humorous, two-hundred-page expose of energy.
Our two-hundred-year dependence upon fossil fuels is rapidly coming to an end, says Friedemann. What can we replace that with?
First though, she reminds us that fossil fuels are not just the source of energy and/or electricity. Fossil fuels are a prime component of just about every commodity in our modern life. From asphalt to rubber, from toothpaste to shampoo, from curtains to umbrellas. Oh, and for any readers in Australia – fossil fuels are used in the manufacture of surfboards.
Considering energy alone Friedemann is skeptical. What can replace fossil fuels? She considers all options: CNG, LNG, liquified coal, nuclear, hydrogen, ammonia, oil shale, biodiesel, and “renewables.” Her conclusion for all of them – they won’t work. Each of them will not work for one or more of the following reasons:
· Too heavy. Storing enough energy in batteries to provide power for trucks will take almost all, if not more, of the allowable weight of the truck. Where do you put the goods? Batteries are highly unlikely to become light enough. We are already using lithium batteries, and lithium is the third lightest element.
· Too costly.
· Take up too much land area. For example, if wish to provide the world’s electricity requirement with “renewables” then the mining for the materials needed would engulf 37% of the world’s land area. Imagine what that would do for biodiversity.
· EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Investment) is either far too low, or in some cases negative.
· Unable to be scaled up.
· Too short a lifespan. What happens to the waste?
· Require ever scarcer rare minerals.
· Unable to provide enough heat for manufacturing purposes. Half our fossil fuels are presently used in manufacturing. The irony here is that manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels requires a heat much greater than wind and solar can obtain. Fossil fuels must be used to generate the heat required to manufacture these “renewables.” Renewables are not renewable, Friedemann says, they are “rebuildable” (at least in the short term).
Friedemann does suggest one possible source – biomass. However, she manages to show just how limited that is as an option also.
So, what to do?
Friedemann, with characteristic droll wit, tells us that:
“The only other alternative would be to get rid of economic systems that depend upon endless growth on a finite planet.”
Simplify, localise, decentralise. These are the components of an alternative economic system that Friedemann suggest. Now there’s a thought. I wonder if anyone has thought of writing a book about that?
P.S. I am hopeful that a further review of this book will be placed upon this blogsite – a review from a person who has a background in energy systems. Watch this space.
Alice J Friedemann, Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy, Springer Nature Switzerland AG, Cham, Switzerland, 2021.