‘The Sanders green energy plan is magical thinking’

6 mins read



CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said something yesterday that few people in the media have mentioned: Bernie Sanders plans to deal with climate change don’t make any sense.

According to Sanders, climate change is “a global emergency” that needs to be addressed immediately. And Sanders’ plan to do that is the Green New Deal which he describes with 14 bullet points on his web site. The very first bullet point is moving to all-renewable power by 2030:

There is no reason the United States, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, cannot transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy, like wind, solar, and geothermal. We have more than enough capacity to produce ample reliable, affordable electricity from sustainable resources. We must pass a Green New Deal to achieve 100 percent sustainable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and to fully decarbonize the economy by 2050 at the latest.

The federal government electrified America as part of the New Deal. The United States of America put people on the moon 50 years ago. We can sure as hell transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewables today and create millions of jobs in the process.

Except we almost certainly can’t do that the way Sanders wants to do it, i.e without natural gas and without nuclear power. There is simply not enough solar and wind power on the grid and even if there were, those sources are intermittent, meaning you need some way to store energy for use overnight and when the wind isn’t blowing.

“If we had the means to store electricity on a massive scale, such as in batteries, there would be no longer [any] need for backup power,” Zakaria said. He continued, “But we are not even close to having the kind of storage capacity we would need to make this work.

“One example: The clean air task force calculated that just for California to reach 100 percent electricity from renewables it would need 36.3 million MWh of energy storage. The whole state currently has just 150 thousand MWh of storage.”

We’d need to multiply the current storage by about 250 times to cover the need in California. And it’s a safe bet that states where solar energy is less plentiful have even less storage to start with. There is another way to reduce carbon output that isn’t dependent on batteries: Nuclear power. But Sanders says that’s off the table.

Zakaria concludes, “The Sanders green energy plan is magical thinking. It presumes that we can reduce emissions in electricity and transport to zero in ten years while simultaneously shutting down the only two low-emissions, always available sources of power that collectively provide nearly 60 percent of America’s electricity today.

“And that makes me wonder: Is the real problem that Bernie Sanders will lose or that he might win.”

It’s the latter.

Zakaria deserves credit for making this point because I don’t see many others in the media willing to acknowledge that Sanders’ big climate goal is unrealistic. And that’s without even looking at his plan for decarbonizing the transportation sector which includes spending $2 trillion on grants for people to buy electric cars.

The biggest fantasy of all is that, if we did everything Sanders wants, global carbon output will necessarily decline. That’s not necessarily true because, as Megan McArdle pointed out last year, America is not the planet:

Today, the United States accounts for 4.3 percent of the world’s population, roughly 25 percent of its economic output and 15 percent of its carbon emissions from fuel combustion. Meanwhile China, with 18 percent of the world’s population, has 15 percent of its gross domestic product and 28 percent of its emissions. And India, with a population almost as big as China’s, produces only about 3 percent of global GDP and 6 percent of emissions.

Looking at these three countries brings the scale of the problem into focus. There is a small, rich world that lives in comfort and plenty, and a much larger, poor one that wants to get rich. To do so, those billions of people will pass through an intermediate stage when their developing industries are much dirtier than their highly regulated rich-world counterparts. The global emissions problem is likely to get much worse before it gets any better.

It’s not going to be nearly enough to spend trillions on solar panels, batteries, and electric cars in the U.S. For Bernie’s plan to really work, we’ll need to do the same for China and India as well. And I don’t think even Bernie Sanders thinks we can afford to do that.





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