Reliable partnership between natural gas and renewable energy

Naomi Oreskes is the Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She is also the author of the December 16, 2015 opinion piece published in the Guardian titled There is a new form of climate denialism to look out for – so don’t celebrate yet.

That article included the following quote that started a firestorm of responses in mainstream media, on various blogs and social media sites like Reddit, Twitter and Facebook.

But not so fast. There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.

Oddly, some of these voices include climate scientists, who insist that we must now turn to wholesale expansion of nuclear power. Just this past week, as negotiators were closing in on the Paris agreement, four climate scientists held an off-site session insisting that the only way we can solve the coupled climate/energy problem is with a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power. More than that, they are blaming environmentalists, suggesting that the opposition to nuclear power stands between all of us and a two-degree world.

Not surprisingly, there are many active, rational and concerned people who took offense at Oreskes’s categorization of eminent climate scientists like James Hansen, Tom Wigley, Kerry Emanuel, and Ken Caldeira as “deniers” because they recognize that wind and solar energy are dependent on the weather and are incapable of meeting all energy needs.

Of course, she wrote “renewable sources,” instead of wind and solar, so she might honestly defend her position by saying that there are reliable renewables like biomass, municipal solid waste, and large hydroelectric power stations. She might also note that there are readily available and proven storage technologies like pumped hydro, compressed air storage, lead acid storage batteries and Tesla Powerwalls.

She might dissemble if challenged about the cost and environmental impact of those systems, along with the overbuilding that is required when trying to provide as much reliability as needed with fundamentally weather-dependent power sources.

Often, however, renewable energy marketers like to let people think that the wind and the sun are the sources of energy that can provide all we need for utopia they talk or write about with perhaps a few batteries for those “rare” times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. They often show large area maps with what looks like a small area in some remote desert or plain that receives enough solar illumination and reasonably steady winds to provide all the power we’ll ever need.

Aside: Please understand those quotation marks around the word rare are meant to express snark. No one who is aware of the world around them should misunderstand that periods of dark (or overcast) and calm are frequent and occasionally quite lengthy. End Aside.

Recently, Ms. Oreskes inadvertently proved that she understood that the real plan among her allies is to use natural gas to provide on-demand power during those frequent occasions when the wind isn’t blowing hard enough and the sun isn’t shining brightly enough to provide power needs. That plan is founded on an assumption that major reductions in greenhouse gas production from human activities is not very important.

With the following tweet she accepted Shell’s effort to market natural gas + renewables. Her only criticism was the way that their ad creators chose to make the plan look attractive and worth pursuing. She seems to like the product but not the pitch.

My guess is that Shell’s commercial would have been acceptable to Ms. Oreskes if the role of renewable energy had been assigned to the guy while giving the young lady the role of “cleaner than most” and reliable natural gas.

H/T to Ben Heard. Here are his responses to Oreskes’s tweet.

Note: This is part of the continuing effort to document the close relationship between people who market hydrocarbons, especially natural gas, and those who promote the unreliable power sources that are grouped together and sold under the “renewable” brand.

The way that Naomi Oreskes endorses this combination as a viable plan in contrast to the way she dismisses climate scientists who recommend inclusion of nuclear energy makes this a smoking gun.

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