Why bad takes on wind energy are the world's most reliable renewable resource
Also: more ambitious timelines for electric vehicles, Eavor's exciting technology, and Erin O'Toole's carbon tax conundrum
Wind energy is not yet a universally reliable source of energy. But as this week’s catastrophic winter storm in Texas has shown, when it comes to confirming the priors of climate change skeptics and fossil fuel enthusiasts, it might be the most reliable source in the world. Witness the veritable explosion of bullshit takes, whether it’s from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, Postmedia columnists, or any number of bad-faith conservative politicians. For a group of people that enjoys chiding progressives whenever they politicize current events, they sure seem happy to politicize the unfolding tragedy in Texas.
The truth, as I’m sure most of you know, is that wind energy isn’t the cause of the rolling blackouts in Texas. Instead, it’s a function of market design, an unwillingness to prepare for extreme winter weather (hello, climate change), and a particularly American inclination to put profits ahead of people. And as any number of experts have pointed out, supposedly reliable sources like natural gas, coal, and nuclear were a far bigger problem than wind, which performed more or less as the state regulator expected it to in this sort of situation.
But rest assured: the bullshit will continue unabated. If our grid could be fed by that, we’d already have all the energy we’ll ever need.
Speaking of which, there’s a certain community of people out there who refuse to acknowledge the massive shift that’s underway in the auto manufacturing industry, and the negative impact it’s going to have on demand for oil. But the drumbeat of news coming out that industry just keeps getting louder. This week, we saw Tata Motors, the owner of the Jaguar brand, announce that it will be entirely electric by 2025. More importantly, perhaps, it intends to launch e-models of its entire lineup by 2030.
And it’s not just Jaguar or Land Rovers that are going electric. To wit:
These sorts of announcements are just going to keep happening, and the dates are almost certainly going to keep getting pulled forward. This represents an existential threat to demand for oil, since transportation accounts for roughly two-thirds of all the barrels consumed in the world today. And for those who think that the surging middle classes in India and China will overwhelm this trend in Europe and North America? Well, just remember: Tata is an Indian company.
But it’s hardly all bad news for Alberta right now. Witness the $40 million investment in Eavor Technologies, a Calgary-based geothermal company, that Chevron and BP announced this week. This is exciting for any number of reasons, not least the fact that this technology — if it works at scale — could create a low-cost source of base-load renewable electricity, one that could support the further development of wind and solar. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s an Alberta-based company that pioneered the technology.
The idea is devilishly simple: hot water wants to rise, cool water wants to fall. So the Eavor-Loop tunnels way down, miles deep into the Earth where the rock is hot, then runs a series of parallel tunnels out horizontally through the rock, where the water can get nice and hot. These tunnels themselves run for several miles deep beneath the surface, then join back together and rise up vertically again.
The company already has a pilot project operating in Rocky Mountain House, but it will use the money to develop a larger one in Germany, where there are government contracts in place that will make its technology highly economic (the government will pay $270 per megawatt-hour; Eavor is targeting a cost of $50 per megawatt-hour). And while there are no guarantees that its technology will scale up effectively and efficiently, we’re about to find out if it can.
Seriously, how cool is this?
In case you missed it, my latest column for the National Observer was on why Erin O’Toole needs to make peace with a carbon tax if he wants to win the next election. Not a day later, John Ivison came out with a similar piece in the National Post.
But I wouldn’t bet on O’Toole having a change of heart any time soon. Instead, it sounds like he’ll release a plan that relies in large part on huge leaps of technological faith and a willingness to make large industrial emitters bear the brunt of the cost. They will, of course, simply pass that on to consumers, and as Andrew Leach noted on Twitter, the oil and gas industry will bear that more heavily than anyone else. But federal Conservatives have been taking Albertans for granted for a very long time, as I wrote for Maclean’s a while back. That they would ask them to carry the weight of a national climate plan in 2021 is almost fitting.