California Needs Fossil Fuels

Todd Royal
Todd Royal is an independent public policy consultant focusing on the geopolitical implications of energy based in Los Angeles, California.

With the world reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, California, the U.S. and world is using more energy than ever, and growing, according to the British Petroleum (BP) Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 (SRWE2020).

What abundant energy and electricity offers is a way to grow California’s economy, and recover from the coronavirus simultaneously. Additionally, abundant energy and reliable electricity propound the ability to bring California out of its economic doldrums and begin to realistically assess the limitations of green energy and decarbonization.  

Only energy abundance can lower California’s emissions. While there has been a stabilization of emissions growth, particularly from the developing world since approximately 2005, CO2 emissions from China, India, Africa, and others such as Indonesia are increasing exponentially. The less developed a country, region, or continent the greater emissions and pollution rise unabated along with lower access to electricity. These duel factors of lowered human development and unreliable/zero electricity are devastating to environmental healthiness, and will eventually cause California to assess importing oil from Middle Eastern autocrats.

The annual report is arguably the most important source of energy data available to California policymakers, and anyone interested in energy and electricity. The world is using more not less energy since primary energy consumption “grew by 1.3% last year (2019).” This represents ten years of higher primary energy consumption.

Any skirmish, battle, conflict, or outright war (economic or shots fired) will be fought over energy the decades ahead. The good news is renewables (solar panels and wind turbines powered by the sun and wind, and backed up by battery energy storage systems (BESS’)) – though intermittent, land-grabbing (solar farms need 450 times more land than a nuclear plant, and wind farm needs 700 times as much land as a single natural gas well), and unreliablegrew 41%. Plus renewables cause electricity prices to skyrocket. But the sun and wind are generally available most of the year in California.

Interestingly, natural gas came in after renewables with a 36% increase. This falls in line with “U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (falling) by 2.8% in 2019, slightly below 2017 levels,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) over increased use of cleaner natural gas instead of coal for electrical generation. This trend will continue as more U.S. pipelines are approved. If California wants lower emissions why are elected officials trying to outlaw hydraulic fracturing for natural gas?

Expansionary use of natural gas-fired power plants in the U.S. and other developing nations saw “natural gas consumption rise by 2% in 2019, as the share of natural gas in primary energy consumption rose to a record high of 24.2%.” This new record came primarily from “U.S. production accounting for almost two-thirds of this increase.” Unfortunately, California is missing out on the economic gains and cleaner air that natural gas offers.

Still on top is oil at 33% for overall energy consumption, and isn’t surprising since renewables, biomass, coal, natural gas, or nuclear cannot replace the over 6,000 products that come from a barrel of crude oil.

Energy consumption breakdown globally is 27% from coal, 24% from natural gas, 6% from hydropower (dams), 5% from renewables, and 4% from nuclear power. Global coal production continues growing with a 1.5% increase. These numbers come out to 85% of all global energy consumption is from fossil fuels. The SRWE2020 highlights:

“China was responsible for three quarters of the world’s energy consumption growth, followed by India and Indonesia. The U.S. and Germany posted the largest declines.”

Fossil fuels still dominate, and they are growing yearly. The world and California need to either use more carbon-free nuclear and lower emitting natural gas for electricity and transportation to lower emissions, or the poor will suffer higher global emissions. On a positive note for carbon-free societies, nuclear consumption grew “at the fastest level since 2004, with China and Japan providing the largest contributions to the increase.” Still the 1997 Kyoto Protocol has not curbed global carbon dioxide emissions, because they have risen 50% since its enactment.

Anyone advocating for renewables – even with its impressive growth – doesn’t understand the advantages U.S. fracking offers in global geopolitics, or is unserious about escalating energy consumption and recovering economic growth post COVID-19. 

Other startling numbers for ecologically friendly and social-justice-aware Californians to consider are 1.2 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have reliable electricity. Add 1.4 billion people within India, another 1.45 billion people from China, and this example: “collectively, South African women and children walk a daily distance equivalent to 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water.” Wanting and needing fossil fuels are something to consider when “(approximately) 4 billion people lack enough electricity to enjoy a modern life.” 

Modern life is defined in California and the U.S., as 13,000 kWh per year, per person of electricity according to the World Bank; and the European Union (EU) is around 6,000 kWh per year, per person. Energy poverty and the overarching need for fossil fuels is starkly illustrated by having “3 billion humans rely on biomass like wood, dung (human and animal feces), and charcoal for cooking and heating.” 

If Californians care about social justice and eliminating energy poverty, then every fossil fuel exploration and production option should be available for in-state use and exporting at cost to billions globally who are dying from lack of energy. With technological progress and abundant California energy we have the opportunity to lift billions out of poverty.

Six out of seven humans alive today live in developing nations. California as the 5th largest economy in the world continues needing more energy than we can imagine. With 85% of global energy consumption coming from fossil fuels and world projections by 2050 having another 2 billion people and $85 trillion in GDP,” it is unfair to think “only wind, only solar” can meet our immense California and global energy needs when “so much more is needed.”

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