Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other global leaders, especially in Europe, are touting wind and solar power to end Europe’s dependency on Russia for 45% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil.
They claim it’s the solution to global energy security threatened by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
As Trudeau recently put it:
“What we’re seeing is a shift in Europe and elsewhere to understand that Russia is no longer a reliable partner. What Vladimir Putin has broken here is a trust. We will be there to support, as the world moves beyond Russian oil and indeed, beyond fossil fuels, to have more renewables in our mix.”
There’s only one problem.
Replacing fossil fuels with wind and solar power means replacing reliance on one dictator with another — Chinese president Xi Jinping — because China dominates the global renewable energy market.
It supplies 85% of the components for wind turbines, builds half of them and manufactures 70% of solar panels.
It also mines 90% of lithium-ion and 85% of rare earth elements used in wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicle batteries.
Using its low labor costs and economies of scale, China — notorious for its long record of industrial espionage, intellectual property theft and spying on political opponents — has been driving its international competitors in green energy out of business, as well as investing in wind and solar power companies overseas.
The world’s largest producer of industrial greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change — it burns more coal annually than the developed world combined — China has used its market might to simultaneously position itself as the world’s leading supplier and manufacturer of green energy.
What if, at some point in future, China decides to invade Taiwan with the world now as dependent on China’s green energy as Europe is today on Russia’s fossil fuel energy?
While Trudeau and European politicians talk about replacing Russian oil and natural gas with wind and solar power, the reality is neither can replace fossil fuel energy because, unlike them, they cannot provide base load power to the electricity grid on demand.
For that reason, wind and solar power are typically backed up by natural gas energy to cover the times when green energy goes offline because the wind isn’t blowing — or isn’t blowing at the right speed — or the sun isn’t shining .
China’s competitors abroad complain that in addition to high costs and economic losses, excessive government regulation and supply chain disruptions caused by the global pandemic are slowing the growth of the renewable energy industry throughout Europe.
Wind and solar projects in Europe are also facing increasing opposition from citizens’ groups angry about the huge amount of land they take up for relatively low energy production and the damage they cause to wildlife, fish, and plants, as well as spinning wind turbines killing birds and bats. Noise from turbines is another issue.
All of this makes predictions that Europe will meet its 2030 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, much less significantly reduce its reliance on oil and natural gas, a pipe dream.
In just two years, we’ve seen first the pandemic and then Putin’s invasion of Ukraine six weeks ago, turn years of global energy predictions on their heads.
It’s also a warning that during the transition of our economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the most important job of the federal government will be to ensure the domestic energy security of Canadians.