Aspiration vs. Reality When It Comes to Energy

I read an article recently predicting that the AI (Artificial Intelligence) revolution we are supposedly in, is going to result in a much greater demand for natural gas. I am sure that was not good news for people who have been promising a “zero carbon” world by 2030 or 2035.

AI sounds like it would be a technology that would lead us more quickly to a carbon-free world. Yet, in truth, it is a technology that requires more-and-more, 24-7 computer-server and cloud services which are energy hogs when it comes to electricity. Round-the-clock firm electrical service, which AI needs, is not something that renewable energy can provide or likely, short of a major discovery in the area of nuclear fusion, will be able to provide in the foreseeable future. Natural gas will continue to be the fuel of choice in running the turbines and generators that are required for firm electrical service.

To be honest, I think that the general public is beginning to realize that although we all “aspire” to have a carbon-free world…we know that it is going to take a long time to get there.

Just think of what we must give up for a carbon-free world…starting with windmills and solar panels themselves which largely come from products (like plastics) that are made by refineries. Even if all sources of electricity could be made renewable tomorrow…the machines that produce such generation must come from refineries that are fossil fuel based.

There has been other news lately that the public seems to be “souring” a bit on all-electric cars. It is not only that it takes a long time to charge a battery–people are concerned about what they will drive if the electrical grid breaks down. People are not dumb…they are practical in their thinking.

There is also the realization that a great many car parts, including those that make up the body of a car…come from plastics, i.e. refineries. Even the tires that cars run on are largely constructed of synthetic materials, not on the rubber that comes from rubber trees.

This does not mean that society should not aspire to a cleaner environment, nor should it discourage renewable energy. However, like most things in life, it is going to take a long time for this to happen.

Regrettably, I think that the recent war in Ukraine has probably caused some of this “re-think” when it comes to an all-electric world. What are the Russians hitting on an almost daily basis? Yes, the power plants and electric grid of Ukraine. You don’t hear a lot about people in Ukraine shifting to all-electric cars.

What irks me most, I think, in this whole debate, is that some have been over-promising on the issue by implying that such an energy conversion can happen and must happen almost overnight. It took a lot of centuries of human history for mankind to develop the engines and machines that run on fossil fuel and today power our cars, airplanes and electric plants.

It is going to take decades and some more discoveries, before we find other ways to generate the energy that is needed to power this complex, technological society that we now live in.

We should have aspirations when it comes to cleaner energy use…they just need to be aspirations which are tempered by reality.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.


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