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Bloomberg's Folly: Beyond Carbon

A couple weeks ago we reported to you that Michael Bloomberg's Bloomberg Philanthropies organization will spend $500 million to, among other things, stop the "headlong rush" to natural gas and stop building any new natural gas fired power plants and related infrastructure, including pipelines.

When someone announces he's spending $500 million on a campaign to put you out of business, you ought to take a look at the details, which we have. It turns out that the campaign's leader and donor, Michael Bloomberg, and the goals he is driving for, have some serious math problems. We'd like to illustrate them so everyone on the receiving end of his "largesse" can see and share with others the obvious and deep flaws in his thinking.

Bloomberg's "Beyond Carbon" Goals
First, recall his prime objectives, to be met by "mid-century":

  • Transition to "100% clean power" - Replace coal and gas with renewable and zero-carbon energy sources.
  • Replace oil burning cars and trucks with electric vehicles - Replace gasoline and diesel fueled cars, trucks, and buses with electric vehicles.
  • Eliminate building emissions - Replace fossil fuel heat and power with electricity in buildings.

    The Real Math
    The real math must first look at the starting point - 2018 electric generating output and the fuel mix (per the U.S. Energy Information Administration or EIA):

    2018 Fuel/Source Gigawatt Hours*
    Coal 1,146
    Natural Gas 1,468
    Nuclear 807
    Wind & Solar 342
    Hydro 292
    Biomass, Petroleum, Other 123
    Total 4,178

    *A gigawatt hour (gWh) is a measure of electric power output equal to one billion watts for one hour; equal to 1,000 megawatts per hour (mWh); and 100,000 kilowatts per hour (kWh)

    Electric Vehicles and Buildings
    Here are some quick order-of-magnitude metrics, first on the additional gigawatt hours needed to keep the batteries charged in Bloomberg's 100% electric vehicle fleet. This is based on data for 2018 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and average battery kWh used per mile.* Next we calculated what it would take to supply electricity to the current U.S. stock of commercial building space (assuming half remains to be converted to all-electric), using today's average kWh consumption per square foot. We used 44 billion square feet at an average electricity consumption per square foot of 20 kWh per year, values according to real estate industry sources.

    Heavy Trucks: 300 billion VMT per year at 2.2 kWh per mile 660
    Cars, Light Trucks, SUVs: 3 trillion VMT per year at 30 kWh per 100 miles 900
    Make remaining 50% of building space all-electric 880
    Total additional gigawatt hours needed annually as of 2018 2,440

    * U.S. Department of Transportation

    Requirements for Added Renewable Power
    Now assume (1) that coal, natural gas, fuel oil and biomass generation drop to zero gigawatt hours as Bloomberg prescribes (subtracting 2,730 gWh from the grid), (2) that all other non-wind/solar sources, mainly nuclear and hydro, remain constant at 2018 values, and (3) that wind and solar must grow to make up the difference both to replace coal and gas and to add the new power needed for recharging vehicle batteries. That adds up to an additional 5,500 gWh annually, before demand growth from economic expansion.

    Finally, add in a conservative compound annual growth rate of 1.5% of electric power demand, driven by economic growth, from 2019 to 2050. This grows to another 3,900 gWh annually by 2050.

    So to summarize: by 2050 we need 5,500 gWh of new wind and solar to replace coal and natural gas, charge the batteries in our all-electric vehicle fleet, and convert 50% of our commercial building stock to all electric. Add another 3,900 gWh for economic growth through 2050 and you have 9,400 new combined wind and solar gWh needed annually by mid-century. That's 27.5 times current wind and solar generation of 342 gWh!

    We think Mr. Bloomberg's goals are, to be generous and euphemistic, "aspirational", as House Speaker Pelosi described the Green New Deal when asked how that would be possible.

    One final note: two days ago the Chair of the California Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, was asked at a hearing at the state capitol how the state would achieve its 2050 goal of net-zero carbon emissions. She replied that unknown technological advancements and innovation will have to happen to achieve it, saying "We frankly don't know how we're going to get there," adding that the state will have to work to make forests and lands act as sinks to capture carbon, as well as make farming more efficient.

    Stating an "aspirational" goal that's 30 or even 20 years in the future is easy when you don't have to chart a realistic path to get there. The real path to a lower carbon future has a huge role for natural gas.

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