The Risks In Biden’s Energy Plan

You may count me among those who want to see society move beyond fossil fuels. We all know there are negative consequences associated with fossil fuel usages, such as the emission of carbon dioxide and various other pollutants.

However, fossil fuel replacements come with their own risks and trade-offs, and it is important to understand and weigh these trade-offs as we transition from fossil fuels.

Two key issues are scale and reliability. Most people drastically underestimate our ongoing dependence on fossil fuels. According to the latest BP Statistical Review — which is the “bible” of energy statistics — in 2019 fossil fuels supplied 83.3% of our energy in the U.S.; nuclear power supplied another 8.0%. Renewables, including hydropower, just 8.7%.

Even though renewables are expanding rapidly, the percentage of energy we get from fossil fuels hasn’t changed that much over the years. After declining a bit a decade ago due to high prices, oil consumption in the U.S. has once again been on the rise (excepting last year’s pandemic-related collapse).

The U.S. has seen a drastic decline in coal consumption over the past decade (but global coal consumption has risen) as it has been displaced in the power sector by natural gas primarily, as well as renewables. As a result, natural gas consumption has increased by nearly 40% over the past decade in the U.S. 

Meanwhile, most people still rely on the local service station for fuel for their cars, and they rely on their local utility to power their homes and businesses. There are occasional exceptions, but generally, when we need the energy we can count on it. Fossil fuels, despite their negative environmental aspects, are reliable and available at a large scale.

I believe there will be a day when renewables — combined with backup storage like batteries — will reliably replace our massive fossil fuel consumption. We are moving in that direction. But, moving too fast can lead to unintended consequences.

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