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Todd Royal

Todd Royal

Todd Royal is an independent strategic consultant, researcher and author on energy matters based in southern California.

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The Geopolitical Implications Of Renewable Energy

An October report from BlackRock (BLK)—the world’s largest publicly traded investment management firm—wisely states, “markets are calm but geopolitics are anything but.”

Wind and solar energy—two leading renewable energy options—could possibly become a dangerous part of an energy mix as the world continues on a downward geopolitical slope.

Both are intermittent and unreliable, and can only produce consistent energy under certain weather parameters, and neither, at this time, can be stored at scale. Renewable energy options are also tough on the environment because wind and solar energy requires large amounts of land compared to conventional, reliable fossil fuel energy.

However, renewables are consistently publicized as growing faster than fossil fuels, but that’s misleading. Unless hydroelectricity is being produced under a controlled scenario with dammed water then renewable energy is inferior to coal, nuclear and natural gas powered electricity.

While renewables don’t emit carbon dioxide, they may not, unfortunately, be the solution to lower emissions. This is where renewables can create a dangerous geopolitical climate for nations pursuing them wholeheartedly.

A new paper by the Center of the American Experiment, “Energy Policy in Minnesota the High Cost of Failure,” chronicles Minnesota’s $15 billion experiment with wind energy over traditional fossil fuels, which didn’t lower CO2 emissions and caused Minnesota’s price of electricity to rise above the national average for the first time on record.

Related: The Remarkable Recovery Of Big Oil

Imagine this on a larger scale. Think Africa—where 635 million citizens are without any form of modern energy at this time. This lack of scalable, affordable energy that fossil fuels and nuclear energy provide can be construed as a direct correlation for the inherent instability of Africa, its lower economic growth, higher rates of overpopulation and lacking the wherewithal to combat radicalization by groups like ISIS throughout the continent.

The geopolitical nightmare of the reliable energy problem grows when you include figures by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that states 1.2 billion worldwide are also without power.

People like hip-hop artist Akon mean well when they make big plans like attempting to install solar solutions for 14 African countries, but there seems to be a lack of understanding some critical environmental implications of those actions, like not addressing the problems and higher costs that renewables cause. If the United States still can’t figure out how to lower electricity costs using renewable energy, then it’s doubtful that Africa can right now.  

This could doom over a billion people to higher costs they can’t afford, unreliable energy and more than likely needing high emitting, coal-fired power plants as an energy backup. The smarter decision is to follow Warren Buffet's lead by investing in fossil fuel to help avert the geopolitical disasters that renewables could cause fragile nations in need of scalable, reliable energy options. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that 77 percent of the world’s energy needs by 2040 will still be met by fossil fuels.

Electric vehicles (EVs) also run into the same geopolitical problems as renewable energy, while also requiring enormous government subsidies. This is something that Buffet discovered when he bought a controlling stake in Pilot Flying J, the truck-stop chain that sells food, coffee and diesel to truckers on U.S. cross-country hauls.

Buffet believes that EVs or autonomous vehicles won’t replace combustible engines powered by gasoline. He reiterated this stance on a Bloomberg Television appearance, stating, “Who knows when driverless trucks are going to come along and what level of penetration they have?”

Bloomberg and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) have said that EVs will overtake cars run on gasoline by 2025 in affordability. Buffet may have read that in BNEFs fine print in these reports that explains for EV forecasts to be true, government regulators have to push taxes, mandates and publicly-funded rebates to make EVs as cost effective as a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Fiat loses $20,000 on every EV, General Motors loses $9,000 on every Chevy Bolt, and Tesla sustains profits by selling zero-emission credits to conventional car companies. If California and other countries ban gasoline-powered cars, then where would the profits be replaced? If you consider what Russia did once oil crashed in 2014, it’s not hard to imagine other countries going this EV path to make hegemonic movements the way Russia did when it annexed Crimea and pushed into Syria while aligning with Iran.

Where this becomes geopolitically troubling is when China, India, the U.K., France and even California talk of banning the combustible engine between 2030-2040. As an example, it will be difficult for California to ban gasoline-powered cars the same way it will be nearly impossible in the coming decades for the other above-mentioned countries to accomplish that goal. This British EV push is particularly troubling since they implemented Brexit and are moving away from the European Union along with the security of the post World War II order of economic prosperity.

Going back to that example, and the massive amount of energy needed to match a typical filling station, along with what an EV-only station would require when gasoline-powered cars are banned, Canadian engineer David Booth reported, “An electric filling station would have to have the 30 megawatts of capacity available, equivalent to the electricity use of 20,000 homes to supply electricity to charge 25 or 30 million vehicles in California.”

Thinking geopolitically, what happens to energy legacy industries (coal, natural gas, gasoline) during the phasing-out process? The Chinese example is particularly troubling, as they’re building the dirtiest emitting coal-fired power plants in Pakistan. India counters the China-Pakistan alliance by building the largest coal-fired power plant in recent memory on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

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These type of energy policies lead to environmental degradation that causes wars, water shortages and business decisions that seem to be more about establishing green credibility instead of energy stability. China, Pakistan and India going back and forth using energy as a weapon is similar to how Russian state-owned energy firm Rosneft is the Kremlin’s weaponized, foreign policy instrument against the west.

Rosneft has used what the New York Times called, “Rosneft’s Venezuela model,” to support belligerent governments in Syria and Iran while driving a wedge between NATO, Turkey and the West. Going with unstable, intermittent energy (renewables) and costly transportation options (EVs) is a means for geopolitical influence and counter pressure points to be used against peaceful nations and governments.

Energy is the building block for thriving, human flourishing to exist. Stable, reliable, scalable energy that coal, nuclear and natural gas provides can be used as a counter to nations like China, Iran, and Russia (CIR) that seem to be on a hegemonic march to acquire additional energy resources. As popular as renewable energy and electric vehicles are at this time, they can be used geopolitically against peaceful nations. This weaponization of energy can be stopped by western-aligned nations embracing the abundance that fossil fuel provides and bringing over a billion people out of energy poverty.

Let’s keep working on futuristic energy and transportation, but stop playing energy checkers while CIR-nations play energy chess.

By Todd Royal for Oilprice.com

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  • Baz on November 05 2017 said:
    The author makes some very valid points. However, its rather one-sided and notions such as "if America hasnt figured out how to reduce cost of electricity, who can?" is a little reduntant when the US has possibly the most backward energy policy among G7 and bottom to mid tier among when compared to other G20 nations. When the president and energy secretary speak of indirectly subsidising coal at the expense of renwables and especially solar imports, this no-longer becomes a conversation about anything beyond populism.

    As for geo-political strife, one can argue oil is the primary cause if not one of the key causes of instability in the Middle East for so long. This notion has been further exacerbated by the Iraq war of which the spill-over is still being felt immensely today.

    Furthermore, the article approaches the profitability of EV's for car manufacturers and capability of renewables in general as though the current dynamics will freeze and maintain at the same levels forever. As the last 10 years has made it abundantly clear, cost of wind and solar has come down significantly, allowing for greater levels of scale at on-going lower and lower marginal costs. Noone is saying Africa and the world can survive solely on renwables at current levels, but the dynamics and weight of renewables as a portion of total global energy source continues to increase and grow above fossil fuels on a relative basis. Otherwise there would be no point to the Paris agreement.
  • Rach on November 07 2017 said:
    WOW! I thought i was reading an article written years ago!
    Here are a few things happening in energy ...
    ... UK bank HSBC pledged $100 billion in financing for low-carbon technology through 2025 in an effort to address climate change. It also said it would reduce its
    ... A few months ago, JPMorgan Chase promised $200 billion in financing for clean energy through 2025.
    ... According to a new report from Navigant Research, the United States military uses more petroleum than any other entity in the world, but over the next 10 years it plans to ramp up its microgrid spending in an effort to reduce fossil fuel dependence. Shifting from a reliance on backup diesel generators to large-scale microgrids could save the agency between $8 billion and $20 billion over the next 20 years.
    ... St. Louis became the 47th American city to set a goal of getting all of its electricity from clean, noncarbon sources with a vote by local lawmakers Friday — a significant watershed given its long-standing ties to the fossil fuel industry.
    ... In 2016 - iowa got 36.6% of its power from wind
    ... ACEEE “Energy efficiency has reduced US energy use about 50% relative to what it
    would have been if 1980 patterns had continued. These reductions in energy use are saving every American $2,500 per year in energy bills and reduced prices for
    products and services.”
    ... The state Office of Regulatory Staff, in a motion filed Tuesday, asked South Carolina's utility oversight commission to decide the best way for ratepayers to get the $1 billion SCE&G, a subsidiary of SCANA, recently received as compensation for its failed V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project.
    ... New York's Green Bank has been a success, driving almost $1.4 billion in investment in the state.
    ... All are upping their predictions for EVs ...
    • The International Energy Agency more than doubled its central forecast for EVs, raising its 2030 EV fleet size estimate from to 58 million from 23 million.
    • Exxon Mobil boosted its 2040 estimate to about 100 million from 65 million.
    • BP anticipates 100 million EVs on the road by 2035, a 40 percent increase in its outlook compared with a year ago.

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