Cost of net zero same as spending £1 a SECOND for next 31,000 years
MATT RIDLEY: The official true cost of net zero is the same as spending £1 a SECOND for the next 31,000 years!
The truth is out. An official report has admitted for the first time the scale of the cost of reaching net zero by 2050.
A study by the National Infrastructure Commission, released on Tuesday, concluded that hitting the 2050 target will roughly double the amount of money we would have spent anyway on infrastructure over the next 27 years to £2 trillion: an additional £1 trillion spent on the green agenda.
For a word that skips off the tongue so easily, a trillion is mighty big. Imagine you were to spend a pound a second: how long would it take you to spend £1 trillion? The answer is more than 31,000 years.
So to have spent a trillion pounds by today at the rate of £1 a second, you would have to have started when woolly mammoths roamed free.
A study by the National Infrastructure Commission, released on Tuesday, concluded that hitting the 2050 target will roughly double the amount of money we would have spent anyway on infrastructure over the next 27 years to £2 trillion: an additional £1 trillion spent on the green agenda
Most of that trillion will go on replacing petrol cars with electric ones and gas boilers with electric heat pumps, and on generating, transmitting and distributing the extra electricity needed for these two uses. It also includes a host of other capital projects, including better household insulation. With all that electric demand, we would need extra power stations, extra pylons and upgrades of household electrical circuits. And we would need subsidies for installing the heat pumps and buying electric vehicles.
Oh, and £74 billion would be spent on closing down the gas grid: the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which was set up to promote economic growth, has been so captured by the green lobby that it is now a National Dismantling Commission.
With the exception of home insulation, very little of that £1 trillion would actually improve your lifestyle in any practical way. It does not promise to give you cheaper or more reliable electricity. It would not save you any money or give you any more spare time — or make you more productive.
It would generally replace smaller things with bigger things — more pylons, heavier cars, bigger radiators, wind farms instead of gas turbines — so it would actually clutter the world more.
It’s not like the fortunes we spent setting up the railways in the 1840s or the electricity grid in the 1950s or the internet in the 1990s. These gave us something new and useful. Net zero merely gives us exactly the same product in a different way.
The NIC claims pursuing net zero will provide energy in a cheaper, more reliable and more secure way, but this is nonsense: as I have written on these pages before, going back to coal would deliver those goals, whereas wind farms don’t work when the wind does not blow and heat pumps don’t work as well in very cold weather. In effect, therefore, we would get a lower-quality product.
Most of that trillion will go on replacing petrol cars with electric ones and gas boilers with electric heat pumps, and on generating, transmitting and distributing the extra electricity needed for these two uses
So it’s like replacing all the UK’s coffee shops with more expensive, bigger ones that serve exactly the same coffee and have slightly longer queues. The £1 trillion spent on this, of course, is money we would not be able to spend on schools and hospitals.
This point seems to be lost on almost all our politicians who persist in implying that somehow building a lot of larger coffee shops to replace all the Starbucks and Costas would make us all richer.
‘The economic benefits of net zero far outstrip the investment required,’ intoned Theresa May at the Tory party conference. Earth to Theresa: investing in something is a cost, not a benefit. The benefit comes from the improved product your investment generates, if any.
That is not to say nobody benefits from all this spending. Net zero is proving very effective at rewarding the few at the expense of the many. Those who finance, plan, build and sell these decarbonised products and services (which includes lots of Chinese firms) are making out like bandits. As are those who preach about them. The rest of us are going to be paying for it all.
There is, of course, one benefit we will supposedly get from this spending: a lower risk of disastrous climate change. So what will climate change cost by 2050? That’s a figure known as the ‘social cost of carbon’ — technically speaking the economic damage done by each additional ton of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. You almost never hear this discussed any more. Why not? Because all the estimates are embarrassingly small — far smaller than the cost of decarbonising.
And they are getting smaller. Three economists recently recalculated the social cost of carbon in light of the latest estimates of how sensitive the climate is to carbon dioxide — and how well carbon dioxide is now known to improve agricultural yields.
Their conclusion was clear: ‘The lower bound of the social cost of carbon is likely negative and the upper bound is much lower than previously claimed, at least through the mid- 21st century.’
They found that until 2050, carbon dioxide in the air might well be generating net benefits through higher levels of photosynthesis and increased growth in green vegetation.
Worse still, the £1 trillion cost that the NIC has estimated is almost certainly a huge underestimate. National Grid says net zero will cost three times that much, £3 trillion, and even then they are using low ‘levelised costs’ for renewable energy taken from the Government’s energy department.
Any advance on £3 trillion? Yup. Michael Kelly is Emeritus Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
When he was chief scientist at the Department of Communities and Local Government he commissioned a big pilot project to find out how much it would cost to decarbonise all of Britain’s homes. The answer: perhaps £4 trillion for homes alone.
£74 billion would be spent on closing down the gas grid: the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which was set up to promote economic growth, has been so captured by the green lobby that it is now a National Dismantling Commission
Kelly says it is not just the cost that is unachievable. To deliver the promised infrastructure, we would need a skilled workforce of engineers 70 per cent as large as the NHS and key strategic materials sourced at many times the supply rates that prevail today. Neither is remotely realistic, let alone affordable.
Yet even these estimates may be far too optimistic. Andrew Montford, of Net Zero Watch, pointed out that the Committee on Climate Change’s 2019 forecast that the price of a new small electric car would fall to £13,000 by 2021 was wildly inaccurate.
The true cost of a small electric car that year was more than double that. Correcting that mistake in itself adds £1.6 trillion to net zero’s cost. And the cost of buying a new electric car has risen since.
Now imagine a world in which we spend all this money, the Chinese government continues to ignore our example (it’s building the equivalent of two new coal-fired power stations per week right now) and climate change takes place anyway — but then around 2050, cheap fusion power, or a cheaper and better form of nuclear fission, comes on-stream, with near-zero emissions. We will look like idiots.
Standing here today and forecasting the future of energy technologies is a fool’s errand. In the 1920s, British government advisers insisted that large aeroplanes could never cross oceans and that the future lay with airships. So they built the R101, which crashed on its maiden flight.
We should be instead committing to research into lowering the cost of nuclear fission and fusion.
Or any other technologies that can conceivably get us to net zero emissions one day without sending us back to the Stone Age.
Matt Ridley is a former Tory peer and author of How Innovation Works.
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