Renewable energy ‘simply WON’T WORK’: Top Google engineers

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Wind­mills, solar, tidal — all a ‘false hope’, say Stan­ford PhDs

Two high­ly qual­i­fied Google engi­neers who have spent years study­ing and try­ing to improve renew­able ener­gy tech­nol­o­gy have stat­ed quite blunt­ly that renew­ables will nev­er per­mit the human race to cut CO2 emis­sions to the lev­els demand­ed by cli­mate activists. What­ev­er the future holds, it is not a renew­ables-pow­ered civil­i­sa­tion: such a thing is impossible.

David Fork, PhD

David Fork, PhD


Ross Koningstein, PhD

Ross Kon­ing­stein, PhD

Both men are Stan­ford PhDs, Ross Kon­ing­stein hav­ing trained in aero­space engi­neer­ing and David Fork in applied physics. These aren’t guys who fid­dle about with web­sites or data ana­lyt­ics or “tech­nol­o­gy” of that sort: they are real engi­neers who under­stand dif­fi­cult maths and physics, and top-brack­et even among that dis­tin­guished com­pa­ny. The duo were employed at Google on the RE<C project, which sought to enhance renew­able tech­nol­o­gy to the point where it could pro­duce ener­gy more cheap­ly than coal.

RE<C was a fail­ure, and Google closed it down after four years. Now, Kon­ing­stein and Fork have explained the con­clu­sions they came to after a lengthy peri­od of apply­ing their con­sid­er­able tech­no­log­i­cal exper­tise to renew­ables, in an arti­cle post­ed at IEEE Spectrum.

The two men write:

At the start of RE<C, we had shared the atti­tude of many stal­wart envi­ron­men­tal­ists: We felt that with steady improve­ments to today’s renew­able ener­gy tech­nolo­gies, our soci­ety could stave off cat­a­stroph­ic cli­mate change. We now know that to be a false hope …

Renew­able ener­gy tech­nolo­gies sim­ply won’t work; we need a fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent approach.

One should note that RE<C did­n’t restrict itself to con­ven­tion­al renew­able ideas like solar PV, wind­farms, tidal, hydro etc. It also looked exten­sive­ly into more rad­i­cal notions such as solar-ther­mal, geot­her­mal, “self-assem­bling” wind tow­ers and so on and so forth. There’s no get-out clause for renew­ables believ­ers here.

Kon­ing­stein and Fork aren’t alone. When­ev­er some­body with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a ful­ly renew­ables-pow­ered civilised future for the human race with a rea­son­ably open mind, they nor­mal­ly come to the con­clu­sion that it sim­ply isn’t fea­si­ble. Mere­ly gen­er­at­ing the rel­a­tive­ly small pro­por­tion of our ener­gy that we con­sume today in the form of elec­tric­i­ty is already an insu­per­a­bly dif­fi­cult task for renew­ables: gen­er­at­ing huge amounts more on top to car­ry out the tasks we do today using fos­sil-fuelled heat isn’t even vague­ly plausible.

Even if one were to elec­tri­fy all of trans­port, indus­try, heat­ing and so on, so much renew­able gen­er­a­tion and balancing/storage equip­ment would be need­ed to pow­er it that astro­nom­i­cal new require­ments for steel, con­crete, cop­per, glass, car­bon fibre, neodymi­um, ship­ping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mam­moth amounts of ener­gy: far from achiev­ing mas­sive ener­gy sav­ings, which most plans for a renew­ables future rely on implic­it­ly, we would wind up need­ing far more ener­gy, which would mean even more vast renew­ables farms — and even more mate­ri­als and ener­gy to make and main­tain them and so on. The scale of the build­ing would be like noth­ing ever attempt­ed by the human race.

In real­i­ty, well before any such stage was reached, ener­gy would become hor­ri­fy­ing­ly expen­sive — which means that every­thing would become hor­ri­fy­ing­ly expen­sive (even the present well-under-one-per-cent renew­ables lev­el in the UK has pushed up util­i­ty bills very con­sid­er­ably). This in turn means that every­one would become mis­er­ably poor and eco­nom­ic growth would cease (the more hon­est hard­line greens admit this open­ly). That, how­ev­er, means that such expen­sive lux­u­ries as wel­fare states and pen­sion­ers, prop­er health­care (watch out for that pan­dem­ic), rea­son­able pub­lic ser­vices, afford­able man­u­fac­tured goods and trans­port, decent per­son­al hygiene, space pro­grammes (watch out for the mete­or!) etc etc would all have to go — none of those things are sus­tain­able with­out eco­nom­ic growth.

So nobody’s up for that. And yet, stal­wart envi­ron­men­tal­ists like Kon­ing­stein and Fork — and many oth­ers — remain con­vinced that the dan­gers of car­bon-dri­ven warm­ing are real and mas­sive. Indeed the pair ref­er­ence the famous NASA bof­fin Dr. James Hansen, who is more or less the dad­dy of mod­ern glob­al warm­ing fears, and say like him that we must move rapid­ly not just to less­ened [sic] but to zero car­bon emis­sions (and on top of that, suck a whole lot of CO2 out of the air by such means as plant­i­ng forests).

So, how is this to be done?