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Renewable Energy: Facts & Fallacies

renewable energy

The Oil & Gas Industry is not dying.

Quite the contrary. Despite what politicians in Washington, London, Paris, and Brussels say, the future for renewable energy is like that of a millennial who, through enormous financial aid and parental subsidy, will still be living in the basement at 27 (no offense to millenials, it is just a perfect analogy).

It should be our goal as stewards of this planet to develop cleaner and more sustainable means of powering our lives. However, there is also the need and utility of interacting with and using facts and prudence to move toward that goal.

One cannot simply turn on the television or rely on internet clickbait in order to arrive at common sense. We are inundated with misinformation, narratives that strive to reflect what others wish the world to be instead of what it is. Facts are themselves straightforward and thus have little value to the news cycle or the political and intellectual classes who have to create a platform in order to stand out. This is not achieved through acquiescence of logic or the status quo. Only through fabricated or exaggerated claims and crises, can their voices be called forth and their importance ratified.

This article will not attempt to address ‘climate change’, but rather will focus on the facts and fallacies surrounding the future of renewable energy and fossil fuels in a practical world.

Renewables are growing faster than any other energy source.

On face value, that seems like a very impressive statement, one that encourages us all to think that soon the fly-over States will be dotted with mild-mannered wind farms and solar panels will be gleaming on every rooftop. However, just a shallow dive into raw numbers will show that this growth compared with where fossil fuels currently reside on the global map is actually quite alarming. It would be like comparing the growth rate of a tree which has just emerged from the soil, a nubile green stalk attaining new heights by the day, beside a 50 foot adult tree which hasn’t appeared to grow at all in months. I’m big on metaphors, btw.

Don’t be fooled by the cheeky headlines about growth and rapid investments and subsidies. These trends are a positive thing and will help the renewable industry eventually mature into a true industry giant, but this will not put a dent in the fossil fuels job sector for a generation. The oil & gas industry will be the backbone of the world’s energy needs for at least the next 25 years.

Speaking of Jobs…

Allan Hoffman, a former analyst for the Department of Energy wrote an article claiming that job investment in renewable energy already out-paces the fossil fuel industry. This is blatantly false. Citing the Solar Foundation, Hoffman states that in 2016 there were 230,000 jobs in the solar industry in the United States compared with just 187,000 in the oil & gas industry. As with any dishonest “journalism” or editorial, it is crucial to take careful stock of the language used. Mr. Hoffman tries to pull one over on the reader by presenting what he hopes you will believe to be an apples-to-apples comparison. When he refers to ‘solar industry jobs’ what his numbers actually reflect are all jobs which support the solar industry. This includes peripheral occupations that work within the industry- electricians, plumbers, government employees, lawyers, PR specialists, etc.

To arrive at 187,000 oil & gas jobs, his source counts only the jobs that are directly involved in the extraction of oil & gas. This does not include the same out lier and “support” positions used to substantiate the renewable energy data. If the same criteria were used, the number of “oil & gas jobs” would absolutely dwarf renewable energy. As you can see this is just one example of the kind of unscrupulous narrative that is prevalent in the energy debate.

China & India

Since oil & gas are exported and imported all over the world, it is logical to look at other countries to get an idea of where the fossil fuel industry is headed. We will leave the Paris Climate Accord for another time, but needless to say China and India make that international agreement incredibly weak.

The West has enjoyed an industrial and technological boom for over a century now. Fossil fuels have allowed that to happen. Imagine if oil and gas had not been utilized for energy. What would our world look like today? Would you be reading this article? Would you even own a computer? Unlikely. I bring this up to then direct your attention to China. Only in the past 30 years has this country arrived on the economic scene with the West. If you looked only at the dearth of metropolitan regions, you would only see half the picture. Much of China is still poor and to drive through the rural areas is not to drive through Nebraska where even the most remote people in the U.S. have Wifi and large diesel fueled pickup trucks. China still has a population which is catching up with its’ urbanites. With a population of 1.4 billion, that’s with a ‘b’, the most valiant efforts of renewable energy couldn’t possibly fuel such a society.

The situation in India is similar, though more striking. A similar population of 1.3 billion illustrates the same idea. However, there is widespread poverty in India and an economy that is well behind China. Renewable energy is being sought in both countries, but the overwhelming need for secure, affordable, and dependable energy is not just a matter of technological necessity but it is a basic need for people in India. The West can play with solar and wind energy in a way that India cannot. There are many people in other parts of the world that deserve the same energy security and societal advancement that the West has enjoyed for generations.

Even if renewable energy somehow replaced fossil fuels in the United States and Europe, there will still be a huge demand in places like China and India. With the estimates of our oil and gas reserves, the United States will likely be a large exporter for decades even as domestic consumption falls.