The Green Energy Agenda vs. Long Run Strategic Planning
By Robert Bradley Jr. -- June 8, 2021
Ed. note: Marvin L. Covault, Lt Gen US Army, retired, is the author of Vision to Execution and author at WeThePeopleSpeaking.com. This post, Long-Range Strategic Planning & The Green Movement,” slightly edited, was recently published in ARRA News Service.
“All of this data leads us back to the question, can we spend trillions of dollars in support of a political-motivated soundbite that may or may not produce a net loss of carbon emissions and/or may not be feasible given the known quantities of minerals needed?”
“… the vast majority of the 195 countries cannot afford any of the Green movement. Do we print a few extra trillion dollars to bankroll them into Green compliance?”
President Biden has set goals for the U.S. to “Achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035″, “Net-zero emissions by 2050,” and “Cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030”. Additionally, the party in power is pushing to have a majority of US-manufactured cars be electric by 2030 and every car on the road to be electric by 2040.
In total that says to we-the-people: shut down the coal/oil/gas-fired electric producing plants and drive electric cars.
Are we to believe those statements/directives in any way represent the results of an all-inclusive long-range strategic plan (LRSP)? No; not only no, but hell no, not even close.
Let’s say that instead of making the above announcement to everyone, President Biden said to his Secretary of Energy, Granholm, “put together a LRSP for those issues”. If the president had set in motion a comprehensive LRSP on energy, what follows is some of what the planners would be considering with their questions, discussions, research, and findings.
IEA on Critical Minerals
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Mark Mills brought to light the fact that the International Energy Agency (IEA), generally regarded as the world’s most important source for energy information, recently released a 287-page report entitled, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions.
Here are some highlights and lowlights from that IEA report.
- Transitioning from today’s energy production (coal, oil, gas, nuclear) to clean energy (wind, solar, batteries) requires minerals, lots of minerals such as lithium, graphite, nickel, and what are called, “rare-earth metals”. Demand will explode by an estimated 4,200% (lithium), 2,500% (graphite), 1,900% (nickel) and 700% (rare-earth metals). Supply and demand drive pricing. When these dramatic increases occur and with greater competition for the metals, what will happen to the price of these minerals, and hence the price of a battery-powered car? Raw material costs already account for some 50-70% of total battery costs.
- All of this mining requires a mining industry, massive transportation, refinement facilities, and infrastructure to support them that does not exist and there are no plans to build them. And to do so will cost a least hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars.
- Production of an electric car requires six times more minerals than a conventional car. An on-shore wind plant requires nine times more minerals than a natural gas-fired plant and a wind turbine will need to be replaced in an estimated 20 years. In just the past ten years, as the transition to wind and solar has begun, the minerals needed to produce a unit of energy have increased by 50%. And that effort only increased the wind and solar share of energy production by 10%.
- With greater demand for minerals, there is another long-range consideration, declining resource quality. Already we are experiencing mineral quality falling across a range of commodities. For example, the average copper ore grade in Chile declined by 30% in just the past 15 years.
- The IEA reported that on average it takes over sixteen years to move a mining operation from discovery to production.
- Environmental consequences: The new demand for minerals creates a global mining boom that will produce an enormous environmental footprint. First, it demands huge quantities of water and, coincidently, about half the known global lithium and copper sources are in water-shortage areas. Additionally, there will be extensive contamination from acid mining, contaminated drainage, and wastewater.
- The IEA points out that the mining of “energy transition minerals” will occur mainly in countries with “low governance scores”. That is, where corruption and bribery pose high-risk operations.
- Viability of access to “energy-transition-minerals”, ETM: While the top three global oil and gas producers account for less than 50% of oil and gas supply, the top three producers of key ETMs control more than 80% of global supply. But, most importantly, China controls most of that 80% and today the US isn’t even in the game.
- To contrast our position today with China, America is now 100% dependent on imports for some 17 key minerals, and, for another 29, over half of our needs are imported thereby creating tremendous vulnerability.
- The IEA report also poses a critical question on future net carbon savings. Mining, transporting, chemical processing, and refining of billions of tons of earth materials will create a new and massive carbon footprint which could conceivably create new carbon emissions in greater volume than that which is saved by driving electric cars.
- What do we do when we run out of one or more of the essential minerals to support battery energy?
- What if the cost of producing batteries for vehicles increases the cost of a vehicle out of the range of lower- and middle-class families?
- The planners would look at the Paris Global Climate Accords and conclude that the accords do nothing to address the IEA revealed shortcomings. Nations set their own goals, nothing is enforceable and there are no penalties for noncompliance. The accords also state that the 139 “developing countries” (which, according to The World Bank, includes China and India) would need assistance from “developed” countries. Wherein India promptly estimated that it would need “at least US $2.5 trillion” in aid by 2030 to achieve its emissions reduction targets.” And then there is China’s “pledge”; they will build hundreds of new coal-fired plants and continue to increase emissions of carbon dioxide at least until 2030.
- Vehicles currently account for about 30% of US carbon emissions. A single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds requires extracting and processing some 500,000 pounds of materials creating a huge carbon footprint. Averaged over a battery’s 7–10-year life, each mile of driving an electric car “consumes” five pounds of earth and, Americans alone, drive some 3 trillion road miles a year.
- Replacing the energy output from a single 100-MW natural gas-fired turbine, itself about the size of a residential house (producing enough electricity for 75,000 homes), requires at least 20 wind turbines, each one about the size of the Washington Monument, occupying some 10 square miles of land, requires some 30,000 tons of iron ore and 50,000 tons of concrete, as well as 900 tons of nonrecyclable plastics for the huge blades. With solar hardware, the tonnage in cement, steel, and glass is 150% greater than for wind, for the same energy output.
- Could we learn some long-range strategic planning lessons from China? In two generations, China has built 500 entire cities from scratch; moved the majority of their1.4 billion population from poverty to the middle class; initiated a global Silk Road infrastructure initiative in underdeveloped countries. By comparison, China has 40,000 kilometers of high-speed rail, the US has none; it took ten years for a bus line in San Francisco to pass its environmental review, and it took us 16 years to build the Big Dig tunnel in Boston. China’s emergence as a world leader in commerce and military preparedness is all about long-range strategic planning on a global scale.
Long-range strategic planning begins by answering a long list of questions. This IEA study goes a long way towards surfacing the critical issues that must be considered to determine a way ahead for any Green movement without just borrowing trillions of dollars to throw at the problem.
This LRSP will demand that we take a close look at the electric vehicle issue.
- One electric car battery weighs in at about 1000 pounds. To produce one battery requires digging up and processing about 500,000 pounds of raw materials such as cadmium, cobalt, lead, lithium, and nickel. For example, for some of these type of materials, the end product is about one-half of one percent of the weight of the material dug out of the ground.
- Numbers of vehicles: the US has about 290 million, there are over 1 billion worldwide.
- There is some mind-numbing math associated with electric vehicles: Vehicles in the US travel about 3 trillion miles per year. Divide that by 290 million vehicles and we have 10,344 miles per vehicle per year. The average elective vehicle can travel about 200-300 miles and then must be recharged. That means each vehicle battery must be charged about 40 times per year. Forty charges per year for 290 million US vehicles equals 11.6 billion charging actions.
- CO2 emissions from vehicles are not just a U.S. problem. To achieve success all nations need to be involved. To that point, there are about one billion vehicles in the world today. It would take 250 billion tons of materials to build a battery for every car, once. Currently, electric car battery life is seven to ten years and then we need to dig another 250 billion tons, and again and again. Is that feasible? By the way, replacing one vehicle battery pack currently costs anywhere from $1000 to $6000. In years ahead when the demand for raw materials increases exponentially, will battery costs be prohibitive for lower and middle-class-income families?
Where does the electricity come from to achieve the total annual charging requirements as well as all the other electrical needs? In the Green movement world, it comes from solar and wind production which leads us to more mind-numbing numbers about the tons of minerals to build wind and solar produced electricity.
- The American Wind Energy Association says it takes somewhere in the range of 200 to 230 tons of steel to make a single wind turbine. The steel tower is anchored in a platform of more than a thousand tons of concrete and steel rebar, 30 to 50 feet across and anywhere from 6 to 30 feet deep. Add to that 45 tons of nonrecyclable plastic blades and 2 tons of rare-earth elements. Then after a life-cycle of around 20 years, start over.
- If we want wind to produce half the world’s electricity, we will need to build about 3 million more turbines. Three million turbines at 230 tons of steel each equals about 690 million tons of steel. To produce steel for one turbine requires about 150 tons of coking coal and about 300 tons of iron ore, all mined, transported thereby producing hydrocarbons. Will battery-powered vehicles actually give us net-zero carbon emissions? Probably not.
- More bad news. Cement is the second most-consumed resource in the world, with more than 4 billion tons produced globally every year which generates about 8% of global carbon emissions. Then there are the emissions from all the trucks, trains, ships, bulldozers, cranes, and other equipment involved in turbine construction. Again, what will be the net carbon reduction?
- Another downside to wind is that the turbines are so preposterously expensive that no one would dream of building one unless they were guaranteed a huge government subsidy, also known as tax dollars.
- Another disturbing question; what do we do for power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine? The most obvious answer is that we must maintain, at all times, a fully operational backup power source. Or do we just heat half the houses, run half the manufacturing plants, recharge half the vehicles and cell phones? Because of the requirement for near 100% backup, some experts predict a wind farm’s power will actually cost around $25,000 for every home it powers.
- The discussion of cement/steel requirement for energy from wind is sobering. I’m sorry to report that energy from solar power requires even more cement and steel than wind turbines to produce the same amount of electricity. Additionally, the production of solar panels requires large amounts of silver and indium. Mining of these metals is expected to increase by 250% and 1200% respectively over the next twenty years and someday we will likely run out of both.
- Solar panels require other “rare-earth” elements which are not currently mined in the US. Demand for these elements is expected to rise 250-1000% by 2050. Access to these metals is questionable. For example, the Republic of the Congo produces 70% of the world’s raw cobalt and China controls 90% of cobalt refining.
And then there are the geopolitical issues associated with global mining of essential minerals to support the gas emission goals issued by the Paris Accords and the Biden administration.
What leverage do we have over China to cause them to give us access to the rare metals they control in Africa? Probably none. Will future wars be fought over control of essential mineral deposits? Could be….
There are nations that are actively studying the electric vehicle issue; according to a British Professor Kelly, if all of the UK vehicle fleet is replaced with electronic vehicles, they would need the following materials: about twice the annual global production of cobalt; three-quarters of the world’s production of lithium carbonate; nearly the entire world’s production of neodymium; and more than half the world’s production of copper. And this is just for the UK’s 32 million vehicles.
OK, you get the picture, there is a tremendous amount of research that must go into the up-front part of LRSP before the leader begins making promises he/she cannot possibly deliver.
The above questions, discussions, and discovery is just a small fraction of what the planners would look at for weeks or months just to determine the answer to one question, is this a viable vision or is it hallucination?
All of this data leads us back to the question, can we spend trillions of dollars in support of a political-motivated soundbite that may or may not produce a net loss of carbon emissions and/or may not be feasible given the known quantities of minerals needed?
Recall upfront, I described the LRSP process as simply answering the questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Vision is WHERE the leader is taking the organization. If the vision statement is viable, here is a quick look at how the remainder of the LRSP process will unfold. The next step is mission.
Mission answers WHAT. The mission is a declaration to everyone in the organization, in this case, that would be we-the-people, of WHAT it is we are all collectively going to do. The mission is not a paragraph, it is a single, clear, understandable statement.
One of the most memorable and important mission statements in our history was delivered on 25 May 1961 by President Kennedy before a joint session of Congress; “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon.” Brief, clear, concise, memorable, repeatable, inspirational, and, most importantly, believed to be within the art of the possible.
Next is the leader’s statement of intent. Intent is the most powerful tool available to a leader. A leader who uses intent in strategic planning is letting everyone in the organization inside his or her head. Intent answers WHO, WHEN, and WHY. Intent is a few short paragraphs, preferably less than one page. Brevity and clarity are paramount. Who is going to be in charge? What is the timeline from vision to execution? Why are we doing this? During World War II, General Eisenhower famously said, “American soldiers will do anything you ask of them as long as you tell them why.”
The hardest part of any LRST is the strategy piece, determining HOW we are going to proceed from vision to execution; how, in general terms, we are going to get to the end state. Strategy is the long pole in the tent. Without a solid strategy, all we have is empty rhetoric.
Unfortunately, many times (particularly in Washington) the strategy is left out of the planning process, and, without the “how, the process just flounders and ultimately fails, having wasted billions or in this case perhaps trillions of dollars in a failed project.
An LRSP will be a phased operation. It’s a little bit like getting on an airliner; you can’t get a boarding pass until you make a reservation. You can’t go through security until you get a boarding pass. You can’t get on the airplane until you go through security. Phases are absolutely essential, and they will be based on objectives achieved, or time-phased, or both.
A second reason for phasing is that on day one of plan execution there is a lot you may not yet know, but more importantly, especially early in the game, you may not know what you don’t know.
In every phase, there will be a deliberate process orchestrated by the leader to determine centers of gravity for each new approaching phase. Centers of gravity are persons, places, things, or circumstances that are central to success. That is, they can significantly assist in success or can cause failure. Once determined, the centers of gravity become must-watched issues.
LRSP is not rocket science but it can be the key to success for any long-range significant undertaking. In organizations where LRSP is not routinely used (the federal government), that organization will flounder and waste unimaginable amounts of time, energy, and money.
THREE FINAL THOUGHTS:
It is a certainty that the scope of increased mining to satisfy mineral requirements will create an enormous, new carbon footprint. The question is, from the totality of the Green movement, will there be a net overall reduction in carbon gases? This must be determined by scientists and engineers, not politicians. We-the-people need to know the answer. And we need to know now.
Secondly, generally speaking, the Green movement is based on a false premise and false promises. A principle underpinning of the pro-green argument is that the energy source is “renewable.” Technically, yes wind and sun are renewable. But, in the larger sense, in order to harness that renewable wind and sun, it will be necessary to mine, transport, and refine literally billions of tons of minerals, many of which are already classified as “rare.” For example, the world needs about 3 million more wind turbines in order to produce 50% of the world’s electric needs. To build 3 million turbines will require mining of about 1 billion tons of iron ore and not one ounce of that iron ore is “renewable.” Then, in about 20 years we replace all 3 million worn-out wind turbines with another billion tons of iron ore.
Finally, the vast majority of the 195 countries cannot afford any of the Green movement. Do we print a few extra trillion dollars to bankroll them into Green compliance?
We-the-people need an in-progress-review briefing from our leaders on the status of the long-range strategic plan for the Green movement.
Don’t hold your breath.
Ed. Note: The above LRSP approach is a central-planning exercise compared to self-interested, voluntary actions between market participants within a private property, rule-of-law regime. The decentralized market creates an undesigned order versus a centralized approach. Still, as Marvin Covault explains above, the Green New Deal fails from a LRSP perspective.