The Trade War with China Is About the Future of Fossil Fuels



This week on "What Crash the Stock Market (And End Capitalism, This Time I Promise)" with Charles Mudede:

Charlie is playing with his pinwheel. The pinwheel, over the course of an hour, winds a rubber band. Charlie propels his toy truck a few yards across the floor, and then sighs. His rubber band is limp.



Yes; a question you could have easily answered for yourself in about five seconds using a typical search engine.


Renewables invest capital to build a generating facility.

They pay maintenance on that facility.

They sell the electricity for profit.

Fossil fuels invest capital to build a generating facility.

They pay maintenance on that facility

Then they pay again for fuel to put into the facility.

Then they sell electricity for profit.

The easily-spotted difference is the reason renewables win hands down. Zero fuel costs, forever. Fossils can’t compete with that.

The free market was designed to lower cost of capital and ongoing expenses to maximize profits. Basically, to do exactly what renewables need to be competitive. It’s inevitable and it has been all along.


this is actually an insightful Charles Mudede column.

Truth: China is building and using more Renewable energy than we are.
Truth: Australia would be off coal if China was not their major supplier (other than Chinese coal) for coal.
Truth: Chinese firm expansion in Africa and around the world is based on very dirty coal plants for the most part, since China doesn't care about them. At all. Not a bit.
Truth: A smart way to fight China is to adopt 120% Renewable Portfolio Standards and replace all Western transportation (car, truck, bus, all of it) with all-electric or all-biofuel vehicles, and to multiply our renewable investments by 20 times, while cutting all fossil fuel exports to China to zero. Zero. Not a drop.

Oh, and replace our jet fuel planes with high speed passenger and freight rail and biofuel jets and electric turboprops.


@5 most renewable electric vehicles require half the maintenance cost too, driving the cost even lower.


@5 Well sure, if anyone can figure out how to store intermittently generated power, at scale and from short to medium-long time ranges.

Contrary to what Charles implies, batteries can't do it, won't be able to do it any time soon.


Tesla came to mind as soon as the topic came up.

I like the pivot from “dirty batteries” to “depopulating Australia” presented in that article.

The weather looks fantastic about now, though.

Need to get China to stop emitting CFCs.


The big oil companies sure could have invested in renewables decades ago, but they didn't. They deserve to go down hard.

What's that phrase? Evolve or die, something like that?


@9 The pivot doesn't make the batteries any easier to recycle, sadly. Nor cheaper, higher-capacity, longer-lived, etc.


Think of how cool all of the animals will be if the Great Basin fills back in, though.


@8 we already do it, one of the kids of a colleague is in LA developing versions of long-range electric planes, wake up and smell the 2019's.

We have the answers, we just have lazy people with highly subsidized fossil fuel lives, that need to have their depreciation, deductions, exemptions, and direct and indirect subsidies yanked out from under them.



The problem with that article (and your general argument) is that it only talks about Lithium-Ion batteries, as though Li-ion is the only battery chemistry there is.

Li-ion batteries are favored for EV's and personal electronics for one primary reason: portability. Phones and cars both need to go places, so it's important to maximize the energy density per unit of battery mass.

Utility-scale energy storage doesn't need to go places. It just needs to sit there and retain energy. For that purpose, there are a plethora of other battery chemistries, as well as non-battery solutions (e.g. pumped hydro) that are more appropriate for utility-scale storage.


@6 A little confused on the wording of your second point. Australia exports coal to China, not the other way around. They unfortunately also use what they don't export as their primary fuel source.


@8 - There's pumped hydro

There's kinetic storage

There's compressed air

There's thermal batteries

And there are cheaper battery formulations than Lithium Ion made of more plentiful materials. In short, hand waving about one kind of battery misses the fact that people are already doing myriad things, where they make sense. And they're making sense more and more places.

And all of them are storing generating capacity with zero fuel costs.


The MIT article was interesting, and had a somewhat misleading headline. It discussed the problems associated with Lithium Ion, but also mentioned other promising battery technologies. But, at the end of the day, it seemed a little too pro-natural gas/nuclear for my liking.

Dispatchers are getting quite skilled at handling the intermittent nature of renewables - BPA was a leader in this because of the spring runoff, which coincides with peak wind season. But a long-term storage solution would be the ideal.

Fun fact: City Light used to have a pumped hydro facility on Lake Union. They pumped it up to the Volunteer Park water tower at night and it that to generate electricity during peak times.


China is the worlds largest oil importer and has been working to secure all the oil supply it can for its own use.


@13, 15, 17

But none of the alternatives you mention are viable yet, at least not at the scale necessary for grid storage, apart from pumped hydro. And pumped hydro has obvious geographical requirements that make it unsuitable anywhere close enough to most of the world's population (we really like our deltas and floodplains).

And there are dozens of ideas out there in addition to the ones you mention. Many of them seem simple and straightforward, but don't work for grid storage. You can just stack up big blocks of concrete and use them to turn generators when you unstack them. This has been prototyped, and sort of works -- electrcity goes in, electricity goes out -- the problem is you can't get enough throughput to meet the kind of demand we see in grid peaks, or anything close to it. Do you remember the "hydrogen economy?" Do you wonder why we haven't heard much from its proponents for the past decade or so?

If any of these storage technologies were viable, then someone somewhere in the world would be building them out at scale, not just evaluating prototypes or planning research-scale facilities.

It's not like there wouldn't be any profit to be made from this kind of energy tech, you know?