Why Craig Kelly should stop parroting Bjorn Lomborg’s attack on solar

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The attacks on solar by Craig Kelly, the new head of the Coalition’s environment and energy committee, know no bounds, and no facts. Here’s why his claims are rubbish.

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Liberal Party MP Craig Kelly – the climate science denier recently named as head of the Coalition’s environment and energy committee – has been getting a lot of publicity of late over his attack on subsidies for solar energy.

Screen Shot 2016-09-13 at 11.01.24 AMHis critique of solar is taken straight from the Coalition play-book, inspired by the climate “contrarian” Bjorn Lomborg. It holds that no matter how much you invest in solar and wind energy, it ain’t going to make a lot of difference over the long term because the technologies don’t work, and won’t contribute much.

Kelly even quotes from the International Energy Agency – as Lomborg does – painting what he describes as the IEA’s “most optimistic forecast” as having a very small role for wind and solar.

“The hard cold reality is that even under the IEA’s most optimistic scenario in 25 years’ time, and allowing for a “massive” growth in Solar PV, it will only contribute a peripheral 0.7% of the global energy supply – and will be getting MORE energy from fossil fuels than we are today,” Kelly writes on his Facebook page.

Lomborg wrote something similar last year, and we took issue with Lomborg at the time, and we quoted the senior IEA official rubbishing those claims. Now, we take issue with Kelly for repeating them, because they are false.

The scenario Kelly describes as the IEA’s “most optimistic” forecast is not optimistic at all.

It is the one where the world continues as is and heats the planet by 3°C or more. It’s the so called “New Policies” scenario, where pre-Paris policies are put in place but not enough to meet the subsequent Paris climate deal of capping global warming at well below 2°C.

It’s a scenario based for everyone who thinks CO2 is good for plants and bad for no one. People like Kelly. And it is not very optimistic.

To find the IEA’s more optimistic scenario, the one where the world does act on its Paris agreement, does not take much effort.

Assuming Kelly was doing his own research and not cutting and pasting from one of Lomborg’s articles, as he has done previously here  and here, he could have flicked a few pages from the IEA’s World Energy Review and found these tables, 8.2 and 9.3.

iea power renewables

The key here is that under the 450 scenario, the minimum needed to meet the Paris target, the IEA predicts that solar and wind will be providing a lot more of the world’s electricity needs than coal. By 2040 it will be the biggest single source of electricity. That does not make it a “peripheral” energy supply.

Let’s start with Table 8.2 above. It shows that in IEA’s most optimistic scenario, that “other renewables” account for 10,980 Terawatt hours of electricity by 2040. That is more than coal, gas and oil put together.

To find out what “other renewables” are, we go to the Table 9.3 below.

iea renewable share 2040
This table shows that wind will provide 5,101 TWh and solar (PV and concentrating solar power) provide a combined 3,169 TWh. Go back to Table 8.2 and you see that the IEA is predicting coal to generate 4,107 TWh.

So, in its most optimistic scenario – and remember the IEA is actually pretty conservative and has a history of downplaying wind and solar – the agency believes that wind energy will be producing more electricity than coal, and that solar will not be far behind.

Lomborg and Kelly’s tactic is to try and bury solar and PV in “total energy demand”, which includes oil and gas for road transport, shipping transport, air transport, heating for buildings, residential cooking and heating, and gas and other energy for manufacturing use.

Then they take a scenario that they pretend is the most optimistic, when even the IEA admits it would destroy the world’s environment.

The IEA says in its scenario planning “the share of electricity in final energy consumption has doubled since the 1970s and continues to grow in the New Policies Scenario, going from 18% in 2013 to 24% in 2040. That’s how you get a small number for wind and solar.

“The reality is that those that bury their head in sand to these numbers, and continue to “believe” that the Solar PV will replace fossil fuels “soon” are the best friends the fossil fuel lobby has,” Kelly writes on his Facebook page.

No, the reality is that the people that bury their head in sand to these numbers, and continue to “believe” that fossil fuels won’t be replaced, are actually the best friends the fossil fuel lobby has.

Kelly should check his numbers, and prime minister Malcolm (I will not lead a party that does not take climate change seriously) Turnbull should have a think about the people he is appointing to senior environment and energy positions in his government.

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12 Comments
  1. Keith 3 years ago

    The IEA have to provide a 1.5C scenario as COP21 gets ratified. It looks like they will do that in their upcoming World Energy Outlook, due for release on 16 Nov 2016. http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/publications/weo-2016/

    While the IEA has consistently underestimated renewable energy growth, perhaps this time the report will be more accurate.

    The November report should give some idea as to what the world is in the process of ratifying (China and US already agreed).

    It is going to be a huge shock for both sides of Aussie politics, who blithely think they can ratify the Paris agreement and still have a coal industry…. they can’t have both.

  2. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    Imagine Turnbull involving him in the Environment and Energy Committee … like Tony Abbott could have done !

  3. john 3 years ago

    Craig kelly I would venture to say goes with some of the other luminaries elected to the new parliament.
    A person elected to the senior house who believes NASA falsifies information just how that works when they launch rockets with people on board beats me.
    How long do we have to endure this totally rubbish before people wake up i ask?

    • David McKay 3 years ago

      You are no doubt referring to Mr NEA. (No Empirical evidence) NASA, CSIRO, BOM all falsify data to promote climate change.

  4. Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

    Brilliant exposition of the way these numbskulls operate. I wanted to crash tackle the guy for being so determinedly witless but this piece has achieved more than a Shoulder Charge Chicken Wing combo ever could.

    • Giles 3 years ago

      Let’s not downplay the impact of a Shoulder Charge Chicken Wing combo

      • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

        I’d probably have to front the judiciary the following Wednesday evening for that one.

        • Giles 3 years ago

          So you might miss a game. Take it for the people. We need more professional fouls, and fewer foul professionals.

  5. howardpatr 3 years ago

    A furrther blight upon JellyBack Turnbull as he dances to the tune of the “Abbottites”.

  6. Ian 3 years ago

    The fossil fuel industry is not going to lie down quietly, that’s for sure. The renewables advocates will just have to continue their work patiently and carefully, seizing opportunities when they arise and being fair and honest in their renewables project offerings. Battery storage is the biggest need currently and a lot more emphasis on this is required. If you want renewables to succeed you have got to have cheap reliable battery storage – and lots of it.

    Lomborg and Kelly, in their perverse way, do have a point ‘ total energy demand’ is the road map for renewables. Look at the figures for oil , gas and coal production and the energy produced by all that and see the incredible scope and market for renewables and electricity storage in all its forms. There has never been a better potential market than energy production and storage. This is bigger than air travel and bigger than the Internet. We have to switch off the fossil fuel spigot and find our energy requirements from something else.

    Any mean-minded battery company that tries to profit greatly from their home battery offerings is doing every one a disservice. If they get their battery prices down to a transformative level then the market will expand like the Big Bang.

  7. Mark Diesendorf 3 years ago

    “the IEA predicts that…”
    Well, no, it doesn’t predict. The point needs to be made explicitly that scenarios are not predictions and, in some cases, they are not even projections. A scenario is a “what if…?” exercise. In other words, given a set of assumptions, what are the consequences? Scenarios can be valuable in exploring different possible futures, especially when their assumptions and methods are transparent.

    • JeffJL 3 years ago

      I was going to accuse you of splitting hairs, but you are correct there.

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