May 062019

Gustave Courbet The man made mad by fear 1844


If I’ve said once that those among us who tout renewable energy should pay more attention to the 2nd law of Thermodynamics, I must have said it a hundred times. But I hardly ever get the impression that people understand why. And it seems so obvious. A quote I often use from Herman Daly and Ken Townsend, when I talk about energy, really says it all:

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”

Using energy produces waste. Using more energy produces more waste. It doesn’t matter -much- what kind of energy is used, or what kind of waste is produced. The energy WE use produces waste, in a medium of which WE cannot survive. The only way to escape this is to use less energy. And because we have used such an enormous amount of energy the past 100 years, we must use a whole lot less in the next 100.

We use about 100 times more energy per person, and a whole lot more in the west, than our own labor can produce. We use the equivalent of what 500 billion people can produce without the aid of fossil fuel-powered machines. We won’t solve this problem with wind turbines or solar panels. There really is one way only: cut down on energy use.

Because it’s exceedingly rare to see this discussed, even among physicists, who should know better since they know thermodynamics, it’s good to hear it from someone else. An article in Forbes today discusses a May 3 article in German magazine Der Spiegel on the problems with the Energiewende, the country’s drastic turn towards renewables.

The Forbes article is written by Michael Shellenberger, President of Environmental Progress and Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment.” (sigh..) Let’s take a walk through it:

The Reason Renewables Can’t Power Modern Civilization Is Because They Were Never Meant To

Over the last decade, journalists have held up Germany’s renewables energy transition, the Energiewende, as an environmental model for the world. “Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset,” thanks to the Energiewende, wrote a New York Times reporter in 2014. With Germany as inspiration, the United Nations and World Bank poured billions into renewables like wind, solar, and hydro in developing nations like Kenya.

Oh well, perhaps we shouldn’t expect journalists and politicians to understand the world they live in. They’re mostly into feel-good items, that’s a job requirement.

But then, last year, Germany was forced to acknowledge that it had to delay its phase-out of coal, and would not meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitments. It announced plans to bulldoze an ancient church and forest in order to get at the coal underneath it. After renewables investors and advocates, including Al Gore and Greenpeace, criticized Germany, journalists came to the country’s defense.

“Germany has fallen short of its emission targets in part because its targets were so ambitious,” one of them argued last summer. “If the rest of the world made just half Germany’s effort, the future for our planet would look less bleak,” she wrote. “So Germany, don’t give up. And also: Thank you.” But Germany didn’t just fall short of its climate targets. Its emissions have flat-lined since 2009.

The stage is set: everybody’s favorite renewables producer has fallen flat on its face. And don’t forget, Angela Merkel, the Mutti behind the Energiewende, is a physicist by training. Thermodynamics must have been a class she missed.

Now comes a major article in the country’s largest newsweekly magazine, Der Spiegel, titled, “A Botched Job in Germany” (“Murks in Germany”). The magazine’s cover shows broken wind turbines and incomplete electrical transmission towers against a dark silhouette of Berlin. “The Energiewende — the biggest political project since reunification — threatens to fail,” write Der Spiegel’s Frank Dohmen, Alexander Jung, Stefan Schultz, Gerald Traufetter in their a 5,700-word investigative story (the article can be read in English here).

Germany has already spent $180 billion on its switch to renewables, only to find it doesn’t work. And much much more will be needed. But for what exactly?

Over the past five years alone, the Energiewende has cost Germany €32 billion ($36 billion) annually, and opposition to renewables is growing in the German countryside. “The politicians fear citizen resistance” Der Spiegel reports. “There is hardly a wind energy project that is not fought.” In response, politicians sometimes order “electrical lines be buried underground but that is many times more expensive and takes years longer.”



As a result, the deployment of renewables and related transmission lines is slowing rapidly. Less than half as many wind turbines (743) were installed in 2018 as were installed in 2017, and just 30 kilometers of new transmission were added in 2017. Solar and wind advocates say cheaper solar panels and wind turbines will make the future growth in renewables cheaper than past growth but there are reasons to believe the opposite will be the case. Der Spiegel cites a recent estimate that it would cost Germany “€3.4 trillion ($3.8 trillion),” or seven times more than it spent from 2000 to 2025, to increase solar and wind three to five-hold by 2050.

A total expenditure of some $150 billion per year, every year from 2025 to 2050. On a rapidly failing project. Note: the numbers are “flexible”: just above, it says “Over the past five years alone, the Energiewende has cost Germany €32 billion ($36 billion)” , and seven times that is much more than $150 billion annually. Later in the article, the author says “Germans, who will have spent $580 billion on renewables by 2025 ..” General rule of thumb: it will cost much more than any estimate will tell you.

Between 2000 and 2018, Germany grew renewables from 7% to 39% of its electricity. And as much of Germany’s renewable electricity comes from biomass, which scientists view as polluting and environmentally degrading, as from solar.

Of the 7,700 new kilometers of transmission lines needed, only 8% has been built, while large-scale electricity storage remains inefficient and expensive. “A large part of the energy used is lost,” the reporters note of a much-hyped hydrogen gas project, “and the efficiency is below 40%… No viable business model can be developed from this.”

Meanwhile, the 20-year subsidies granted to wind, solar, and biogas since 2000 will start coming to an end next year. “The wind power boom is over,” Der Spiegel concludes.

Think Mutti Merkel has read this?

.The earliest and most sophisticated 20th Century case for renewables came from a German who is widely considered the most influential philosopher of the 20th Century, Martin Heidegger. In his 1954 essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger condemned the view of nature as a mere resource for human consumption. The use of “modern technology,” he wrote, “puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such..

But then starting around the year 2000, renewables started to gain a high-tech luster. Governments and private investors poured $2 trillion into solar and wind and related infrastructure, creating the impression that renewables were profitable aside from subsidies. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk proclaimed that a rich, high-energy civilization could be powered by cheap solar panels and electric cars.

Journalists reported breathlessly on the cost declines in batteries, imagining a tipping point at which conventional electricity utilities would be “disrupted.” But no amount of marketing could change the poor physics of resource-intensive and land-intensive renewables. Solar farms take 450 times more land than nuclear plants, and wind farms take 700 times more land than natural gas wells, to produce the same amount of energy.

Note: these issues only arise when you talk about large-scale projects, but then those are the only ones even considered.

Efforts to export the Energiewende to developing nations may prove even more devastating. The new wind farm in Kenya, inspired and financed by Germany and other well-meaning Western nations, is located on a major flight path of migratory birds. Scientists say it will kill hundreds of endangered eagles. “It’s one of the three worst sites for a wind farm that I’ve seen in Africa in terms of its potential to kill threatened birds,” a biologist explained.

We are incapable of seeing an ecosystem as a whole and functioning entity, because we have never learned to look at things that way. So we see a landscape as containing an X-amount of animals and plant life, and can’t figure out why we must be careful with its balance. Landscapes to us look, first, empty, unless there’s -lots of- human activity.

Heidegger, like much of the conservation movement, would have hated what the Energiewende has become: an excuse for the destruction of natural landscapes and local communities. Opposition to renewables comes from the country peoples that Heidegger idolized as more authentic and “grounded” than urbane cosmopolitan elites who fetishize their solar roofs and Teslas as signs of virtue.

Germans, who will have spent $580 billion on renewables by 2025, express great pride in the Energiewende. “It’s our gift to the world,” a renewables advocate told The Times. Tragically, many Germans appear to have believed that the billions they spent on renewables would redeem them. “Germans would then at last feel that they have gone from being world-destroyers in the 20th century to world-saviors in the 21st,” noted a reporter.

Germany to save the world. Yeah, they would love that. Better find another project for that, though. Germany has an enormous car industry, and electric cars, as this article should by now have shown, won’t save the environment. They can’t. Only not driving a car can.

Shellenberger then finishes with a nice, almost philosophical conclusion, which is also his headline:

Many Germans will, like Der Spiegel, claim the renewables transition was merely “botched,” but it wasn’t. The transition to renewables was doomed because modern industrial people, no matter how Romantic they are, do not want to return to pre-modern life. The reason renewables can’t power modern civilization is because they were never meant to. One interesting question is why anybody ever thought they could.

The reason why anyone ever thought renewables could power modern civilization is the same that Angela Merkel thought that: we all learn from failing education systems and have a very poor understanding of even the most basic principles of physics, including by physicists. We want to feel good more than we want reality.

Schools, universities, media and politics are all geared towards believing in growth and progress, in unlimited quantities. Because we all want to believe that there will be energy in unlimited quantities, it’s in our genes.

But look at it this way: in Nate Hagens’ presentation Earth vs. The Amoeba, which I posted a few days ago, there’s a slide that says fossil fuels provide us with a labor subsidy of the equivalent of some 500 billion people, 100 people (energy slaves) for each of us in the global workforce, and many more in the west. Is there anyone amongst you who thinks wind and solar could ever do the same, even in the most ideal conditions imaginable?

If not, it would seem to be time to reconsider a few things. First of all: stop advocating renewables, start advocating the use of less energy. I’m not saying it will be much use, I have this deep-seated fear that we, as a species, won’t be able to stop until nature itself stops us. What you don’t use, someone else can and will. But renewables are now dead. So there. Thanks for making that clear, Mutti, even if you didn’t mean to.





Home Forums Renewables Are Dead


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    Gustave Courbet The man made mad by fear 1844   If I’ve said once that those among us who tout renewable energy should pay more attention to the
    [See the full post at: Renewables Are Dead]


    For me the key take-away from this article is that LARGE scale renewable projects don’t work. But what about localized small scale ones? While large scale planning may be necessary, perhaps the answer lies in regional grids that don’t try to transmit for miles, and don’t expect uninterrupted availability of electricity. I know some folks think nuclear plants could work, but they never think of the long, long term disposal of used wastes.

    Course, this does not include the current need for food to be trucked and shipped huge distances. Again, localize resources of food are necessary. We will need to down size in so many ways.


    Glennda, I did touch on that in the article:

    .. these issues only arise when you talk about large-scale projects, but then those are the only ones even considered.

    But even then, on a local level too the same issue arises: you can only save energy, and produce less waste, by not using it, not by switching from one sort to another. It may seem to work, but thermodynamics gets in the way.

    Of course there’s always a possibility that your community can look ‘green’ because your waste lands on someone else’s doorstep. That’s sort of like our entire societal make-up anyway.

    It’s why I like the Spiegel piece so much, it shows us the failings of renewables so clearly. Something that’s hard to do without the experimental evidence, because everybody focuses on the feel-good factors so much, politicians, companies, media, but also you and me.

    It takes a major effort to get out of that mindset. And why should you? It’ll only make you feel worse.


    But even then, on a local level too the same issue arises: you can only save energy, and produce less waste, by not using it, not by switching from one sort to another. It may seem to work, but thermodynamics gets in the way.”

    Electricity stops then society stops functioning.
    Therefore, less waste, nobody can use it.
    Start your standby generator while everyone dies.
    Next, use solar panels while everything else is stopped.
    Next, use windmill when there is nothing else.
    Next, do what you can with what you have.
    Result, major population decline and major decrease of waste, etc.


    Result, major population decline and major decrease of waste, etc.

    That’s the spirit, zero, nice knowing ya!


    I f I live long enough, I don’t expect to be able to survive in my chosen green zone.


    Interesting read, unsurprising conclusion. It made me reflect that it has been quite a long time, years at least, since I have seen the trucks carrying windmill towers and blades heading south out of Longview, WA to travel east on I-84 out to central and eastern Oregon. Perhaps that has all been built out as much as it makes sense to do, either because the good sites are all gone, or the subsidies ended. I used to notice the big trucks on the days I would cycle to work, since it would take 12 minutes to cross the bridge over the Columbia, and I would see a lot of the oncoming freeway traffic in that time from a leisurely vantage point.


    Rototillerman, you make me think back of all the things out there about efficiency of wind, always grossly exaggerated, and about A locations and all the other locations. But I don’t think it makes any difference. It’s all just subsidies and hot air.


    Problems are happening with the following renewables energy productions

    Heartland Heartache Hits Record: “Mississippi River At Major Flood Stage For 41 Days & Counting”


    It does my 76 year old Engineering heart good to read you thinking like this. So thank you, But unfortunately, I need to disagree somewhat.
    Entropy speaks more of order or disorder, not energy, per se. This is why it has a foundation in morality, where evil is equated to positive entropy, and life, classical literature, love, and the like are equated to negative or reversed entropy.
    The classical entropy example is steel and rust, with the rust the higher in entropy. But just because rust contains oxygen atoms does not make it more energetic. Recall that the Redox reaction of oxidation has the memory refrain, LEO, lose electrons-oxidation. Any LENR aficionado will tell you that electrons are the key to free energy.
    But entropy can be reversed. It takes outside energy, of course. Think of a bunch of troublesome boys, just going around destructively, annoying everyone. Evil. The add the energy a a loving youth leader, who gathers them, teaches them a skill, and produces a coherent band of do-gooders. Not evil.
    Was his energy free? Of course not. that is not what the math is about. Its about the battle between disorder and order.
    Speaking of LENR (we were, weren’t we..?) Remember Fleischmann and Pons? Their sad story is reaching a brighter end as numerous (NGO!) researchers have found that the right atoms in the right combination with Deuterium releases very clean thermal energy in copious the presence of a stabilized low-energy plasma. This will, indeed lead to almost free, clean energy which will allow us to undo untoward amounts of positive entropy. No need to skimp, as you suggest.
    Separate the wheat from the chaff, but see

    V. Arnold

    If not, it would seem to be time to reconsider a few things. First of all: stop advocating renewables, start advocating the use of less energy. I’m not saying it will be much use, I have this deep-seated fear that we, as a species, won’t be able to stop until nature itself stops us.

    Realistically? We do not learn; rinse and repeat…endlessly.
    We’re going to do ourselves in; temporary respite; a few generations later, we’ll forget and do that which is our nature…

    absolute galore

    I think I paraphrase Nicole Foss who said that a civilization capable of renewable energy sources at scale can’t be run on them. In other words, renewables are similar to our financial system — kind of a ponzi scheme in the end, that doesn’t really produce much when all the subtraction of costs is accounted for. And of course they are highly entwined in that system right from the get go.

    I will say though, that arguing against renewables is not a way to win friends and influence people.Gail Tverberg, who I think writes well about this subject, has softened her stance a tiny bit, but only in the sense that these projects create some jobs. And aren’t most of our jobs pointless at this point anyway?

    V. Arnold

    The only argument I would make for renewables is based on my experience living aboard a 9 meter sailboat (built in Holland, I might add) for 8 years. Solar and wind work very well, but; the lifestyle requirements are nowhere as demanding as trying to electrify a house or maintaine an extravagant lifestyle.
    If people were willing to live modestly, renewables could work, IMO.
    Tiny houses come to mind…


    Of course the headline is provocative. That’s how I wanted it. What it means is that renewables are dead as a solution to the problems it purports to solve.

    Should I lie to win friends and influence people? I sort of decided against that, on all topics, not just this one. You should see the flack I get for not supporting the anti-Trump campaign. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. No, I’m not, and you can’t make me.

    Enginer, no such thing as free clean energy in copious amounts. And I think that’s a good thing: look at what we did with the free energy that oil has endowed us with.

    On a general note: how many politicians, scientists, industrialists and media do you see promoting less energy use? I see none.


    Using energy produces waste. Using more energy produces more waste. It doesn’t matter -much- what kind of energy is used, or what kind of waste is produced. The energy WE use produces waste, in a medium of which WE cannot survive.

    There are two mistakes in your interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics. Firstly, the Earth is not a closed system; it rejects heat to space. Secondly, the solar energy absorbed by the Earth is converted to waste heat whether or not we make use of it. For example, wind eventually dissipates against hillsides, trees, buildings, etc and its kinetic energy is converted to heat. Putting a wind turbine in the way still converts it to the same amount of heat, but that is generated in the turbine and at the point of use of the electricity. Solar PV does a similar thing by intercepting energy that would otherwise heat the ground.

    Renewables don’t change the energy balance of the Earth very much at all.

    The rest of your article is about how harnessing renewable energy at large scale is difficult. I don’t disagree with that at all.

    V. Arnold

    On a general note: how many politicians, scientists, industrialists and media do you see promoting less energy use? I see none.

    True. Me either…
    Ilargi; stick to your guns (so to speak); you make TAE one of a kind; the best kind.


    A friend sent me a mail he got from Ugo Bardi (a mailing list I presume):

    Dear colleagues, 

    you may have seen this article appeared a few days ago on “Der Spiegel” (here translated into English)

    It is not a bad article, it is actually pro-renewables, they want the government to do much more than they have been doing so far. Unfortunately, some people completely misunderstood it, such as Raoul Ilargi, normally an intelligent and well informed commenter who titles his post “Renewables are dead”

    Renewables Are Dead

    Unfortunately, the idea that renewable energy is useless seems to be making inroads in the public consciousness, sometimes on the basis of some weird thermodynamic considerations developed by people who know little about thermodynamics. 

    So, the situation is not developing well. I don’t know if someone in this group has some idea on how to contrast this wave of anti-renewable pessimism, if so, maybe we could discuss that. 

    I’m a bit disappointed that Ugo doesn’t send it to me. He knows me, we met.

    Two comments: 1) I didn’t say that renewable energy is useless. Why make that claim? I pointed out that scaling it up the way Germany tried doesn’t work. Again, renewables cannot replace fossil fuels, in precisely the sense that Nicole meant when she said complex societies cannot be run on them.

    2) As for the Germans having to do much more, I’m thinking the article I quoted shows that that may not be the way to go. And I don’t mean to say don’t develop any renewables, what I criticize is the blind drive towards them with hardly a mention of energy-saving measures.

    A simplified example: the car you drive is about 20x your weight, and its engine burns 10% of the fuel you put in, in an effective manner. And even that just to move around 20x your weight. An electric car may be a little more efficient, but the general concept is still based on wasting energy.

    And it’s the general concept that has to change. We need to stop fooling people into thinking renewables solve any of this.

    Dr. D

    Lots here, so many directions. And as complicated as the problem is, explaining the solutions is 10x more.

    So yesterday’s presentation, he said he had a 6 hour version. Explaining some of the solutions would take 60 hours, at least. And who will listen? Who has time? Most can’t even click the Tedx length.

    To me, the problem you have is exactly one of low-entropy inputs. That is to say, unlike anthracite, renewables are very mild and energy weak. If they weren’t, we would have used them instead of coal in the first place, and the Middle Ages would have had the industrial revolution and space travel instead of vice-versa.

    But this says something else: it’s impossible to centralize renewable energies.

    The problem isn’t renewables at all. We already know a super-insulated home with high appliances and solar can make any house self-sufficient into Canada or Scandinavia. So why not do that? Because then they wouldn’t have centralization, and therefore, rentier profits and life and death control over the citizens. You – they – the whole population would be off the ranch, escaped from Bosch and Siemens and German government control. So they need to pick one: total central control or renewable energy. And they already picked. They picked their true love, power and control and death, and let renewables fail spectacularly, despite every advantage. Any hack on the Isle of Skye can make it work, but not them!

    And while normally I wouldn’t mind letting dummies collapse into their own cesspool of ignorance and failure, but in this case, the loss of $4 Trillion prevents installing anything that DOES work. Of which we have lots. And lots. And lots and lots and lots, but none of it is controlled by Siemens and PGE over the grid.

    The grid loses 20% of power all day, all night. You don’t have the energy in renewables to spare to just blow 20% of all power into the air, with another 20% lost in vampire taps like standby TVs and cell charger cubes. But not to fear, they will kill us all by demanding unnecessary, illogical, anti-science centralization rather than independent cabins with a front garden. Clearly. As they’ve been at it 30 years and how many billions in front-garden-subsidies have been offered? Sorry, we have far more important things to do, subsidizing multi-billionaire Elon Musk so he can light greenies on fire in their own cars and drive them into walls in Santa Monica. #Winning

    Moral: you’re on your own. Worse than that, government will come down and steal everything they can find to GIVE it to Musk and PREVENT your putting up solar and passive hot water, so HE can mow down mountains of lithium in Afghanistan and fail to cut carbon, as any scientist with a crayon can predict.

    But good news? Maybe we didn’t need to so much?

    Snow in UK in May, coldest on record, stiff snow incoming.

    Record snow for May in Switzerland

    Record snow in Saudi Arabia:



    Yes, centralization, and the power (political) that comes with it, is a big additional issue.


    I am constantly frustrated (but not surprised) but the number of people who believe with all their heart that a shift to ‘renewables’ is not only possible but can be done without missing a beat of our energy-intensive, high-tech world. This seems to be the result of several factors: hope, misguided terminology (e.g. ‘clean’ energy), and reduction of cognitive dissonance–to name a few. Many fail to understand that we cannot keep chasing the infinite growth chalice pushed on us by corporate/government institutions but need to reduce our energy consumption significantly, and this means forfeiting a whole host of ‘conveniences’ and sociocultural ‘norms’ (expectations?).
    Most people I know personally aren’t even aware of the conundrum, and would rather not know. As Nietzsche suggested, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”


    You know what’s cute, Olduvai, many if not most of those people grew up in and lived through times when energy use was 30-50% of what it is now. And the realization that they cannot recognize that, and that they were perfectly happy with half the energy they use now, is, I think, really all there is to know.


    Yes, let’s focus on all the wasted energy – all lost wandering around the electrical grid that spans the whole western US, all the energy wasted shipping cheap shoddy pointless plastic across oceans, all the “consumer” items nobody really wants. All that shopping therapy that doesn’t really make anyone happier. All the ads, all the spread out reach of commuting. Wasted energy, it’s like writing checks because there are still checks in the check book with no bothering with the debt mounting.

    We really do live in a time of sorrow. Does your accumulated waste/stuff own you or do you really own it?

    I think many people are already looking to down size, and not just seniors. Lets talk about Live Simply, so Others may Simply Live.

    So yes, lets say Stop producing Waste. This consumer/capitalist world is happy to over produce and sell to the US, and we know we need the newest most wonderful up-to-date gadgets, because the ads tell us that we will be better for it.

    I keep hoping the world economy will crash to lower shipping and trucking use of fuel. But it’s more than that, we do need to make a push to stop wasting so much, living like there is no tomrrow. All the young Gretas are right to speak out and call out their elders.

    What happened to securing a better future for our children and grandchildren?


    There will be more on this. One one side, after we moved from farms to offices, we did not need more than two children per family. We could not sustain 7.7E9 people without synthetic fertilizers (NH3) and the wonders petroleum and coal energy bring. On the other side, MORE energy will allow us to reverse a lot of the positive entropy that so contaminates our shrinking world.
    The Tokamak has been a ridiculous waste of money; better things are coming. For techies, see Even these people are only just beginning to see what is ahead.

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