Common-sense approach needed in making fossil-to-renewable sources/supply transition

If there’s one thing you should know about me it should be that I’m not a big proponent of fossil-fuel use. If you’ve been anywhere, where, in the air, there is noticeable smog and/or haze, then you should have an appreciation for why it is, in this context, I feel as I do. This is not complicated.

What I’m not saying, on the other hand, is, lock, stock and barrel, kick our fossil-fuel habit. I believe, there are climate and environmental activists/advocates who would like nothing better than to see that eventuality realized. Maybe in the longer-term picture, yes. But, right now, at this moment, as I see it, I believe that any drastic and swift action initiated as a means to address polluted air and global warming/climate change, is neither viable nor workable nor realistic. It’s really that simple.

And, here are reasons for this.

On Feb. 13th I wrote about natural gas supply. So, let’s begin by talking about transportation, eh?

Here in the United States, transportation is responsible for contributing almost 30 percent of atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In California it’s over 40 percent; 50 percent if oil/petroleum extraction/refining and transporting the finished product – gasoline and diesel fuel – are included. That’s a significant amount of emissions added to the atmosphere that, believe me, we could do without. But, to give up or quit on that fossil-fuel supply cold turkey? We saw what happened after the Feb. 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Prices at the gas pump went through the roof! And, soon thereafter we looked to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for some short-term pump-price relief. What was it that was prescribed: a million barrels of petroleum per day and for how long a duration, six months? And, whatever amount was used over how long a period of time, well, that should be replenished.

And, until, as a country, we are able to wean ourselves off oil in transportation completely, then dependence on this resource just cannot evaporate overnight. But, by the same token, this does not also mean that there cannot or should not be a transition to cleaner-burning engines and fuels, investment in alternative modes and upgraded, improved technologies like transit and hybrid and electric vehicle adoption, respectively. There should be. Though we are transitioning to a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable future, the pace at which this is being done, many feel, should be speeded up.

Next on the agenda is energy. I feel we are doing better in this arena, that is, in terms of making the switch from fossil to renewables energy use.

Whereas between the 1970s and the 2010s in the U.S., energy was the largest GHG-emissions contributor to the atmosphere, that sector moved to the number two spot in 2016. Clearly this could be attributed to the energy sector’s penchant for embracing and adopting into its portfolio renewables – solar, wind, wave, geothermal, hydroelectric and nuclear power. Coal use, as an energy supply resource, has been cut in half in recent times, going from 60 percent to 30 percent reliance. This could and would not have been possible without a rethinking about renewables as not only a suitable but competitive alternative to the dirtier fossil fuels like coal. In certain circumstances, however, natural gas has become the more preferable alternative due to the fact that it burns cleaner than even the lowest of low-sulfur-content coal does.

However, with growing fears among some of our not being able to meet our climate goals and in the time remaining that scientists argue we must meet if the severest and most catastrophic climate impacts are to be avoided at the end of the 21st century, then we risk suffering those if we don’t meet the target deadline. In this regard if measured progress isn’t made, then the voices in the advocate and activist communities, will be broadcasted both farther and wider and louder, no doubt with the overarching messages being: “get on the ball, get moving and get with the renewable-resources program.”

The concern over such, meanwhile, is growing. This has become evident in cities like New York and in states like New York and California. They are pursuing measures to outlaw natural-gas-line hookups to most new commercial and residential building projects and purported to go into effect in 2025. Older buildings, of course, will still have a natural-gas-line connection. And, though that might be the case, owners of those older properties can switch interior appliances and heating and cooling systems over to environmentally friendly electricity if they so choose.

So, is going all electric a good or smart move? What if on the generating end the electricity is produced non-renewably?

What’s important to remember here, I believe, is that in an operation solely dependent on electricity, an uninterrupted supply is essential. We witnessed what happened that one winter when Texas was hit by a deep-freeze and the grid was unable to handle the strain placed upon causing it to shut down. Adding insult to injury, it took several days before power was fully restored. If this has taught us anything, it is extreme weather events connected with global warming and climate change are occurring with greater regularity and increased intensity. Under such situations where residential dwelling units, businesses and facilities like hospitals that become affected and are forced to turn to backup resources like gas-powered and diesel-powered generators to fill in, well, they may suffice in terms of getting the electricity back on, but at the same time, they are also adding to the atmospheric greenhouse-gas emissions-problems which is what’s fueling the changing climate and weather extremes that are lately becoming the rule rather than the exception.

If the electric grid can’t pass muster in the sense of it being more resilient and impervious to electricity service interruption, then what sense would it make to forgo reliance on the natural gas equivalents to gasoline-powered and diesel-powered generator types that put out many, many more pollutants? It wouldn’t.

My point is to at least for the time being provide a healthy energy mix.

As such, it isn’t too difficult to see how this could have implications for agriculture, industry, manufacturing, institutional and other sectors in the full spectrum of them all. This isn’t rocket science, you know. It’s just logic or basic common sense – take your pick. Nothing more, nothing less.

Corresponding, connected home-page-entry image: NASA’s Apollo Thirteen lunar mission liftoff – NASA

– Alan Kandel

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  1. Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Feb. 9, 2023. However, due to a glitch in updating, it has been republished here with appropriate revisions included.

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