Google Engineers Conclude Renewables Can’t Save World From Global Warming

Google logoThree years ago NLPC reported that Google would abandon its two-year effort to produce “Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal” (RE<C), a frivolous exercise that came at the height of the Obama-driven fervor to create “green” jobs with visions of stimulus-nourished wind and solar projects.

The company’s Green Energy Czar Bill Weihl in 2009 had boasted to Reuters that he expected “within a few years” that his people would be able to demonstrate technology that produced renewable energy cheaper than coal.

“It is even odds, more or less,” said Weihl, a Time magazine “hero of the environment,” at the time. “In three years, we could have multiple megawatts of plants out there.

Weihl left Google shortly after the company killed RE<C, but not before the company poured more than $850 million into renewable energy ventures. But now two engineers who worked on the project, who are still with Google, have written an article for the Web site of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers that expands on the failures of renewables, yet still clings to the premise that the planet faces “catastrophic climate change” without technology to replace fossil fuels.

In the piece dated November 18, Ross Koningstein & David Fork explain how they believed – like most environmentalists – that existing renewable energy technologies could develop enough to fend off the looming climatological disaster. As they were “forced” to reexamine their assumptions, they said, they eventually realized that even if Google and others had entirely adopted renewable energy, they would not have come close to meeting their goal of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

“Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work,” Koningstein and Fork wrote. “We need a fundamentally different approach.”

Why some of the smartest engineers, working for one of the most innovative, wealthy companies, took so long to figure out the extremely limited capabilities of wind and solar is baffling – but at least they got there. After all, as physicist Howard Hayden once said, “How is it that wind, with a 4000-year head start, is such a small player in the energy scene? Could it be—just possibly—that the answer has something to do with physics instead of economics and politics?”

Nonetheless Koningstein and Fork had been tasked with RE<C and spent two-plus years “designing and building novel energy systems,” but whatever innovations they developed never rose above the ineffectiveness of antiquated wind and solar.

“By 2011, however, it was clear that RE<C would not be able to deliver a technology that could compete economically with coal, and Google officially ended the initiative and shut down the related internal R&D projects,” the pair wrote.

The two engineers were then directed to review the project and try to understand why it failed. Based upon a pair of studies, they determined the best that could be accomplished in cutting greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce 55 percent below “business-as-usual” projections in 2050, while striving to keep the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 350 parts-per-million. But they concluded that even if renewable technologies progressed as quickly as they hoped and were implemented across the entire planet, “atmospheric CO2 levels…would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use.”

“Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon,” Koningstein and Fork explained.

In other words, there is already too much CO2 in the environment, and renewables won’t reduce the amount of fossil fuel use enough to prevent the future damage to the planet. The only hope is to find a way to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it. The pair – not in a hopeless tone, but hopeful – go on to speculate where technology breakthroughs might come from without determining specifically where they likely could be.

But even more baffling is how wedded these two intelligent engineer/scientists are to the dubious theory of global warming/climate change in the first place. Rather than examine the evidence that shows no global warming in the satellite temperature record for at least 18 years, they swallow the unsubstantiated predictions of alarmists like James Hansen and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Other forecasts of climate-driven catastrophe, like increased and more destructive hurricanes and diminishing polar ice, have not materialized either.

If they paid attention to observational science and not the agenda-driven forecasts produced by the alarmists’ computer models, Koningstein and Fork might be able to convince their Google bosses that there are many millions of dollars more they could save the company – but probably not.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes, an aggregator of North Carolina news.