Energy Transition Has Never Existed and Will Never Exist

(E) The latest report of the 2022 IPCC working group III mentioned in its 2,900 pages 2,517 times the word “transition”. According to the historian Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, energy transition has never existed, and will never exist. Energy transition is commonly defined as the process of downshifting existing fossil fuels, and migrating over time our infrastructure to operate on low carbon energy sources.

We have and will likely use a mix of energy. We have been producing more coal with wood. And today, our worldwide production of coal has never been so high. So, we have never really shifted from wood to coal, from coal to oil and gas, and so we will never shift from fossil fuels to nuclear and renewables energy.

All types of energy are growing at the same time. And no type of energy has ever replaced another one.

What is true for energy is also true for all types of raw materials that are the building blocks of our infrastructure. For instance, while we have grown the production of cement, we have also grown at the same time the production of brick, wood, and glass.

Both our energy mix and raw materials have been used and are used in symbiosis.

The model used by the IPCC working group III to predict the large scale transition toward clean energy is the S curve or logistic regression commonly used for the adoption of new technologies such as the smartphones. But that model is unlikely to work for our production of energy and raw materials.

2022 IPCC WG3 Report – Page 139

In the 1930, Ford needed 7 tonnes of coals to produce a car that generally lasted 7 to 8 years. The production of a car at that time used more coals to produce than the gas needed to drive it over its lifetime. Today in China, car manufacturers need 3 tonnes of coals to produce a car.

That coal is used to produce the steel for the car body. Additionally , the availability of the gas to fill the tanks of our cars is very much dependent of the use of the steel to produce oil. The oil industry consumes 3% of the total production of steel for drilling, for transporting the oil in huge oil tankers, and for storing and distributing oil.

While we need steel to manufacture our cars, we need cement to build roads. 30% of the production of cement is used to maintain (not to build) our roads.

Steel and cement are 16% of our total worldwide greenhouses emissions. The consumption of fossil fuels to produce steel has not decreased since the 1970s. And, the production of cement is consuming more fossil fuels as we have improved the quality of the cement with clinker. In addition, the production of cement has shifted toward developing countries which are using more coals.

When you look at the production of raw materials and how they are used in our infrastructure from end-to-end, there have been a lack of improvements and innovations to produce them carbon free. And, this is unlikely to change in the next 30 years.

Half of electric cars worldwide are sold in China and 80% of them used electricity which is being produced by coal. Additionally, China has invested in the production of synthetic fuel which is made from coal. Synthetic fuel is much cheaper than oil but emit more carbon as it is produced from coal.

China’s greenhouse gas emissions are now exceeded those of the U.S. and other developed nations combined because of China reliance on coal.

There is no way, according to Professor Fressoz that we can change our mix of energy and our production of raw materials for our basic infrastructure (transportation, habitat…) based on fossil fuels in less than 30 years while operating with the same type of economy that we are enjoying so much today.

The IPCC WG 3 does not consider any significant change to our economic machine while it is unlikely that we can reduce our global greenhouse emissions without a reduction of our GDPs.

Mr. Fressoz feared our last possible option that is geo-engineering or climate-engineering to reduce our emissions. He believes that as soon as we will be starting the large scale deployments of geo-engineering, our motivation to lower our usage of fossil fuels will inherently disappear.

As an historian, Mr. Fressoz is not optimistic in our ability to reduce our greenhouse emissions by 40% by 2030, and to reach zero carbon emissions in 2050 which is what we need to achieve in order to stay below 2 degrees celsius.

According to the climatologists, we should leave 3/4 of the present economically exploitable fossil fuels in the ground: all the coal, most of the oil. and a large portion of gas.

Professor Fressoz’s insights seems to me to have no flaws. But we cannot lose that battle. We do not have a second planet yet!

Following are one recent lecture, and one interview given by Professor Fressoz:

Note: The picture above is from from Professor Fressoz’s talk.

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