Those who can, do; those who can’t and are crazed with hate develop Green New Deal economic models

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Have you ever built anything? Beyond IKEA furniture, I mean. Or actually, even including IKEA furniture. If you’ve ever built anything, how hard is it to do it on budget and on time?

With IKEA contraptions, at least one doesn’t go over budget on cost. Time might be another thing. For any project bigger than a particle board desk though, the odds of going over budget from a time or cost perspective are high, and the bigger the project, the bigger the chance that budget blowouts will occur. This happens everywhere and particularly in infrastructure. Cost-review studies show, for an energy example, that hydroelectric dam projects have average cost overruns of 90 percent. The scope of the problem is incredible; the study examined 245 hydroelectric projects in 65 countries, over a 70-year period. It’s everywhere.

The major problems of cost overruns were summarized in the above linked study: “The three main explanations for cost overruns and delays are technical challenges, over-optimism, and strategic misrepresentations.”

This excellent little summary brings us the latest assault on the senses from starry-eyed new-energy proponents. A Stanford economist named Mark Jacobson recently quarterbacked an analysis of the costs of going 100% renewable in support of the US Green New Deal. His findings: a total global tab of $73 trillion, which would pay for itself in less than seven years. (Edit: Jacobson is actually an engineering professor, although he holds a degree in economics.)

I spent a horrible hour or two going through Jacobson’s paper. It is the usual academic/economic trove of wild-ass assumptions and theoretical postulations that make sense like it makes sense when an eight-year-old says that “we can get rid of the world’s nutrition problems by hiring enough nutritionists to make sure everyone east enough salad every day.”

Jacobson wants desperately to see a particular outcome; he despises fossil fuels and wants to see them eradicated. (He was in the news earlier this year shouting angrily about a fantastic new carbon capture/storage technology being implemented by Carbon Engineering in Texas; the single facility will remove 1 megatonne of CO2 from the atmosphere per year. “There’s no such thing as carbon capture — it makes problems worse” thundered Jacobson, despite the fact that even the IPCC says that there is no way to meet climate targets without CCS.) His “analysis” is therefore riddled with tunnel-vision observations handpicked to support a foregone conclusion. He touts how going renewable will create vast numbers of new jobs (“…jobs associated with construction material and component suppliers, analysts and attorneys who assess project feasibility and negotiate agreements, banks financing the project…”) but he has nothing to say about the number of jobs for those very same things that will be lost when the fossil fuel industry is obliterated (further, his analysis is that renewables  – because of better efficiency that combustion of fossil fuels – will require far less output, something like 10 percent of fossil fuel output, the number of renewable jobs would be a fraction of fossil fuel ones – a fact he has no interest in stopping to chat about. He blows off Canada’s lost jobs: “additional jobs in those and other regions could result from the need to build more electrical appliances, vehicles, and machines and to increase building energy efficiency…” but feels no need whatsoever to put the same effort into this nonsensical position that he does into the creation of jobs in his scheme).

The rest of the study uses other modeling strategies that sound both scientific and academic, which sadly means that it is a fool’s blueprint for anything concrete. For example, the study talks about how heating demand will be met by hot water tanks and heat stored underground (you don’t need to worry your pretty little head about practicalities, in this fantasy world things just happen so shut up); the supplemental information section eloquently sums up the usefulness of these models: “In any of the cases above, if electricity is not available to meet the remaining load, the simulation stops and must be restarted after increasing generation or storage.” WTF squared. Is that how the real world works? Not enough hot water to heat your building without fossil fuels? Then simply add more capacity. No approval process, no NIMBY fights, no land use issues…just turn the dial and “increase generation or storage.”

The report is forced to throw in footnote nuggets like: “Another uncertainty arises from our assumption of a perfectly interconnected transmission system.” Huh???? Is that even possible? And if it is, isn’t the cost to get there at least marginally relevant? In my book, grid experts confirmed (because that is what they do for a living) that even grid operators don’t know what it would cost to make a grid truly “smart” – that is, capable of two way power flow on a large scale, with millisecond balancing abilities and a complete backup power supply at all times. Much of the electrical infrastructure is from the middle of the last century, hopelessly unable to deal with the speed and complexity of today’s electronics as a two-way flow. Yet Jacobson simply assumes there will be a “perfect” one.

Here’s another brain-rattling leap over the gulf of rational thinking: “…[battery electric] vehicles will dominate 2- and 3-wheel transportation; short- and long-distance light-duty transportation; and most truck, construction machine, and agricultural equipment transportation. Batteries will also power most short- and moderate-distance trains, short-distance boats and ships (e.g., ferries, speedboats), short-distance military equipment, and aircraft traveling less than 1,500 km …approximately half the aircraft flights worldwide may be electrified with batteries.”

Isn’t that fascinating, about the flights? Let’s see, the Boeing 737 MAX was announced in 2011 and first flew in 2016 and gained FAA certification in 2017. So, 6 years after introduction.

The 737MAX though was simply a revamp of a well proven design. The changes to the 737 MAX consisted of a different engine that reduced fuel consumption by 4 percent and “revised tail cone, natural laminar flow nacelle, and hybrid laminar flow vertical stabilizer.” The cost of this upgrade was $2-3 billion, and it took 6 years for the plane to fly.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that Boeing knows how to build a plane better than Jacobson. Yet here is Jacobson saying that “most flights” under 1,500 km will be done with battery-electric planes, all within 30 years. He is talking about a concept that is only yet theoretical, yet his model “shows” how it will handle most national air traffic and half of all air traffic within 30 years. It is likely that no one can even imagine how long it would take to engineer these new mega-planes (if it can be done at all), let alone engineer the electrical infrastructure to make this happen.

And as a last exclamation point on the loony flight plans, Jacobson’s alternative to battery electric propulsion is hydrogen fuel cell, which is all well and good…except that he apparently (not explained in any way) makes the leap that the other half of aircraft flights worldwide will be made using hydrogen fuel cell powered planes. Jacobson is proposing having not one but two entirely unknown technologies designed, tested, build, rolled out, and dominating the market in 30 years. (And don’t point to the recent flight of a battery electric plane in Vancouver as evidence of anything. It flew for 15 minutes, and one day this tech will supplant puddle jumpers that make the 20-minute commute from Victoria to Vancouver. That is not a prelude to a 1,500 km commercial aircraft flight.)

Finally, in the references, of the academic studies referenced, Jacobson cites his own work 62 out of 107 times. Jacobson does note that this work is to support the US Green New Deal, a socialist fantasy, so his work is at least consistent with the economic prowess shown by the former Soviet Union as they economically modeled themselves into oblivion.

Here’s one last projection to consider, if you still like to play in that world. It is far more concrete than Jacobson’s, and similarly is likely understated in its entirety: a fracking ban, as proposed by GND advocates, would cost Pennsylvania alone an estimated $261 billion in GDP by 2025. Why is this understated? Because a fracking ban would also increase the cost of the 90 billion cubic feet per day that the US uses by some multiple, which would mean (at a conservative doubling) adding more than $50 billion per year to fuel costs, or another $250 billion by 2025. And on top of that would be some unknown cost to abandon/dispose of trillions of dollars of petroleum infrastructure.

The Jacobson study is painful and dangerous policy advice; if the US ever comes close to implementing it, we’d all best get subscriptions to Prepper magazine.

As an antidote to mass-media wishful thinking, pick up “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” and learn what the answer really looks like. Available at Amazon.caIndigo.ca, or Amazon.com. Happy holidays!

Please consider a donation to keep this website free of ads and free of spirit – this website is not sponsored by anyone except readers, no souls have been sold around here! Choose any multiple of $5 that makes you feel good inside:)

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6 Comments

  1. Jacobson is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. Not an economist.

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  2. Gary D. says:

    In my experience, good IT project managers always, ALWAYS planned for twice the estimated time and twice the estimated budget.

    And, in virtually all cases, even that was exceeded.

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    • Terry Etam says:

      Agree. And that is when the scope of the project is well understood. Rewiring an economy, or all the world’s economies, will inevitably turn up costs that we can’t even scope yet – a veritable world of “unknown unknowns”.

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  3. Rick Shelby says:

    According to Stanford Jacobson includes Economics among his defrees; B.S. Civil Engineering, B.A. Economics, and M.S. Environmental Engineering (1988) Stanford University
    M.S. (1991) and Ph.D. (1994) Atmospheric Science, University of California at Los Angeles

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  1. […] A Stanford economist named Mark Jacobson recently quarterbacked an analysis of the costs of going 100% renewable in support of the US Green New Deal…a socialist fantasy, so his work is at least consistent with the economic prowess shown by the former Soviet Union as they economically modeled themselves into oblivion – disaster waiting to happen. Read on… […]

    Liked by 1 person

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