A popular myth propagated in today’s culture is that so called “green energies” or “renewables” are viable alternatives to fossil fuels. There is little evidence to support this claim; however, adherents to this creed continue to push for restrictions and bans on today’s leading energy sources and demand ever-greater subsidies for “renewables.”
The energy system which currently sustains the 7.1 billion people on earth is powered by 87 percent fossil fuels; 11 percent nuclear and hydro electric; with the remainder consisting of “renewables” i.e., wind, geothermal, solar, biomass, and waste. Is this a case of an upstart on the verge of a breakthrough, or a perennial loser that can’t make the cut?
The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan offers a horrific microcosm of the actual status of green energy, and what it would mean to impose it on humanity.
The earthquake displayed nature at its most destructive. This seismic event triggered a tsunami with wave heights reaching 133 feet and caused water to surge 6 miles onto the Japanese inland. So powerful was the earthquake it shifted the main island of Japan 8 feet to the east.
This life crushing act of nature killed over 15,000 people, leaving thousands more missing and injured. The damage to infrastructure was so severe that over 4 million households were left without electricity, rolling blackouts occurred, and many industries were forced to ration energy consumption.
This energy scarcity was exacerbated in May of 2012 when Japan, previously the world’s largest consumer of nuclear-derived electricity, shut down all of its nuclear reactors: a loss of 27 percent of its electrical generation. This move showed Japan’s commitment to the green agenda, which opposes not just fossil fuels but also nuclear power. Thus, the stage was set to demonstrate all of green energy’s alleged potential; a wealthy country, a demonstrated willingness to pass environmentalist policies, and a level playing field. What happened?
While popular media championed the idea that massive wind power and solar generation projects were soon to be installed, ‘greening’ Japanese power generation, and fulfilling viable green energy tenets—a different reality unfolded in the country.
With nuclear offline, fossil fuels flowed into the nation. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA),
As a result of the nuclear outages, fossil-fueled generation of electricity rose to 90% of Japan’s total electricity output during 2012, with 8% from hydro and only 2% from nuclear.
In 2012 “the combined amount of electricity generated from natural gas, oil and coal” increased by 21 percent.
Oil consumption increased by 6.3% or 249 thousand barrels per day, the largest consumption increase since 1994.
Coal consumption increased by 5.4 percent, and is expected to increase even more this year (2013) as electrical generation switches from more expensive oil and LNG imports to coal.
Natural gas consumption went up by 10.3 percent from the year previous, with forty percent of Japanese electrical generation coming from Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports. The countries imports consumed 36 percent of the world’s total LNG exports; and Japan was the only nation to import from all of the worlds exporting regions. In 2011 imports increased by 12 percent and in 2012 they increased another 11 percent.
During this tragic and perilous time, green energy did very little to alleviate Japanese suffering. Renewables went from contributing around 1.6 percent of primary energy in 2011 to 1.7 percent in 2012, hardly a demonstration of energy sources capable of powering the planet.
This was not because the Japanese have an ideological preference for fossil fuels—as their anti-nuclear stance shows, they are on the extreme end of environmentalists. But they are environmentalists who were forced to grapple with the reality that if they tried to rebuild primarily using solar and wind, technologies perennially plagued by unreliability and high infrastructure costs, they would fail at rebuilding.
The Japanese disaster demonstrated the truly life saving value of fossil fuels. The people of Japan endured an earthquake, tsunami, and the self imposed energy scarcity of the nuclear generator shutdowns. When it is a matter of life and death, fossil fuels power life. With lives on the line, renewable demonstrated the extent of their viability.
While the people of Japan continue to rebuild their lives, we should not allow others to rebuild the myth that renewable energies are a life-sustaining alternative to fossil fuels.