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Tiptoeing Through the Renewable Energy Minefield


Tiptoeing Through the Renewable Energy Minefield

Richard Heinberg

I spent the last year working with co-author David Fridley and Post Carbon Institute staff on a just-published book, Our Renewable Future. The process was a pleasure: everyone involved (including the twenty or so experts we interviewed or consulted) was delightful to work with, and I personally learned an enormous amount along the way.


This is not an article but an advertisement for this person's website and of course a book instead of informing CD readers about anything. This person continues to work or milk that negative middle road about alternatives which is to rationalize that either some fossil fuel use is necessary for the next few decades and beyond and to cast doubts on the efficacy of solar and wind to replace fossil fuels. He ignores the obvious reality that other countries have made far greater strides in the use of solar/wind/tidal energy and have done so far more rapidly than he believes (?) possible.

He is an apologist for the fossil fuel industry whether he says so openly or not. Here he implied that there were questions about how efficient is the return of energy from solar power ( ranging from 20 to 1 to 3 to 1 as if such a wide discrepancy cannot be resolved factually) Is subjective and dependent on the observer? This is absurd. If you ask a fossil fuel producer you are going to get an answer that is on the lower end of that range. If you read the reports from solar and wind generating operators you get the higher end. The difference is that the solar and wind generating nations have actual proof as well as continual energy production data from their installations and the fossil fuel interests are making specious claims about what is their competition.

Why are Denmark, Germany, Scotland and others shooting for their total energy production to be produced by solar and wind by 2030 /2050? Isn't that a contradiction of what this person says is possible. He is one of those people who makes a living from fossil fuels even though he may advocate alternatives. His view is an incremental and partial shift off fossil fuels. I would not be surprised if he is or has been partially funded by fossil fuel interests because he takes a go slow and that 'not all the way' position.

This piece isn't even discussing the issue nor offering usable data but is an advertisement for himself and his site. Why did CD even publish this? Somebody didn't even read it I'd say and it slipped by. This is disinformation and people like this guy need to be opposed because their role will prolong the use of fossil fuels and rationalize continuing use as well for far longer than needed.


Bullshit. You intentionally misrepresent precisely what Heinberg writes. He EXPLICITLY REJECTS any "middle ground," says fossil fuels are on their way out, and the future will be powered by wind and solar.

You have a habit of denouncing writers on energy topics, and asserting that they support things that they specifically denounce. What's your agenda?


Heinberg is among the best analysts and writers on energy issues. In particular, i very much appreciate this:

"Our ultimate success will depend on our ability to dramatically reduce energy demand in industrialized nations..."

That's right folks. No magic bullets. Reduce consumption. Reduce energy use. Live differently than you have been trained to live by extractivists, advertisers, and their political lackeys. It's not the US "consumer lifestyle" that is non-negotiable, it's the ecology.


Retread this article and tell me any facts that are presented. Anyone can say they are for alternatives but then Hillary calls herself a progressive to. You are too gullible ( and apparently unable to debate without attacking someone for their having a different opinion than you).

This person is not writing an article as much as putting out an advertisement and moreover, this whole piece was to cast doubt and make a plea for environmental incrementalism and a rationalization for the idea that we need to go slow.

You are insulting and rude and make things too personal. Try debating like an adult. Quote me where I misreprented what he said? You think making some simplistic black or white comparison covers it? I said incrementalism btw is that too nuanced or what? Stop diumbing down people with simplistic pap. Try a more rigorous analysis of what is written and stop making things personal.

I am uninterested in being your thing so spare me the obsessive tone from now on.


There are no facts in this article. No data nor quoted figures. He gives subjective opinions and frames them as givens (many people offer their opinions as if they are facts ...ahem!) . If you'll notice (which you hadn't) he is presenting a rationale that is also presented by the fossil fuel industry.

If you could ask Exxon whether we should shift off fossil fuels you would get the answer that yes we should do that. Exxon and other fossil fuel companies are investing in alternatives and they do advertise that. It is sometimes called Green Washing.

The question is not whether we should but WHEN and, of course, how long it will take for that to happen. Fossil fuel industry people start talking that we will need to keep using fossil fuels for the next few decades and probably will never truly end fossil fuel use. These same people talk about how difficult will be the changeover and how we will all have to suffer a bit because we can't have what we have now so be prepared for alternatives to not do the job like fossil fuels can and blah blah blah.

In roughly a decade ( actually longer overall) after announcing a target for becoming fossil fuel free and generating 100% of the nation's energy needs from solar and wind and alternatives, Germany announced it had achieved its first 100% fossil free energy day. The first of many to come as they continue to improve their production capabilities. It will take time for them to achieve that goal in total but they are far closer to reaching it than we are. In another ten years they may be truly fossil fuel free (including coal)! Similarly Denmark and the Netherlands will become King Wind along with Scotland and others. These countries ignored the fossil fuel apologists or their incrementalists (like this author) and went ahead and did what they were told couldn't be done yet! They were told yes that could possibly happen but not for another thirty years and it will take so much effort and money and people will be inconvenienced and have to do without and we will have to continue using fossil fuels for decades... Everybody knows that!

Seems they didn't read this guy's articles explaining how we need to do that slow incrementalism baloney.

Think for yourselves people! Is it happening in Denmark and Germany? Is it? You know the modern industrialized manufacturing state reliant on alternatives? Is it happening? Believe this guy and you'll soon start thinking that it isn't happening but it is.


Unfortunately, your reaction to this piece is an illustration of the communications challenge we have when trying to talk honestly and realistically about the renewable energy transition. Some say it's impossible, too expensive, etc. Others say it can be done cost-effectively and rapidly, without requiring significant demand-side changes.

Heinberg and Fridley argue that the renewable energy transition is inevitable and urgent, but that it's not a plug-and-play solution. I'm not sure why you need to decry Heinberg as a fossil fuel apologist because he takes that more nuanced position.

Now, to some of your specific points:

1) There is a genuine debate on the EROEI of solar, and that debate does center on the boundaries that people select for analysis. You might not like that. I don't think anyone likes it. But like most scientific processes, that's what happens. There are folks (for example, Stanford's Global Climate & Energy Program) that are trying to arrive at universally accepted methodologies for determining EROEI, but we're not there yet.

2) It's true that Germany has made great strides in renewable energy production. They aren't the only ones. But please be careful with your claims. Germany did not achieve a 100% fossil free energy day. They achieved the equivalent of 100% renewable ELECTRICITY. But electricity is only a fraction of final energy consumption. I'm not sure what the breakdown is in Germany, but in the U.S. electricity accounts for 21% of final energy use. In China it's 18%.

3) You deride this piece as an advertisement for a book and website. It's true, we are asking people to engage with the content. But it's not about book sales or making money... It's about encouraging all of us who care passionately about the climate crisis and want to see a rapid transition to renewables to look honestly at the the challenges and opportunities so that we can work as effectively and smartly as possible. That's why the entire contents of the book are available FOR FREE on the website. And speaking of money... No, Heinberg and PCI don't receive funding from fossil fuel interests.

I think there is a lot of space, and in fact need, for debate and discussion. If you don't agree with Heinberg's conclusions, fine. But please use data to support your position rather than name calling and casting aspersions. May I suggest that you step back and possibly give Heinberg the benefit of the doubt as someone who -- even if you vehemently disagree with his views -- has dedicated the last ~20 years of his life to supporting sustainability efforts?


What about those of us who feel a mix of renewables and nuclear is the way to go?


The margins for error when dealing with nuclear are not that great. It short it is always a disaster waiting to happen. The costs of unsubsidized nuclear, doing away with all of the written off externalities make nuclear truly cost prohibitive, anyway.
We need to reduce everything---in particular population.


This is not an article but a self promotion. I specifically referenced a lack of facts and while you and he may be nuanced in your language, that doesn't mean that you are conveying a nuanced position. I noticed that you and another reverted to the less nuanced black or white position and reworded what I wrote which was more nuanced than that simplistic either or. I find such manipulative language and unethical rewording of someone's position suspicious. He makes suppositions but offers no data to back them up. Oh wait, will you say go to your site and there will be data? So what was this article except an advertisement then?

Moreover he keeps saying he is supportive of going off fossil fuels like he has in previous articles and I did NOT say he wasn't. I said he is presenting the oil industry insider view that fossil fuels are necessary for longer than is scientifically wise, as well as harping on how difficult it will be to switch and how costly and he snidely insinuates that if we go off fossil fuels then we will suffer economic contraction and much pain as our energy need will needs be curtailed.

I disagreed okay. That is why I mentioned Germany and Denmark et al. Where were their energy needs curtailed? What economic contraction did they suffer? It didn't happen and in fact cheaper energy stimulated a slight expansion. Lastly he suggests a cap on potential energy generation. Give me a break okay? No mention of innovations that spurred on the last decade's solar and wind power expansion and we have only just begun. Flexible film solar alone will reduce costs dramatically and provide immense adaptations - everything personal being solar rechargeable automatically to Solar roofing and window shades etc.

I personally think he is losing his middle of the road position between fossil fuel use and what is needed for the future. In short he is being left behind because he wants to present the fossil fuel industry's perspective as being more reasonable than it really is. That is why I was so critical. He needs to become current on the climate crisis and that it is unfolding so rapidly. It is as if he is twenty years late with this view of his.

Where did I call him names? See what I mean about unethical. It is a typical tactic for those who can't support their points. If you consider my suggesting that he is a fossil fuel apologist you should consider his previous article like I am.

I have spent over forty five years fighting climate change and back then was something else ...! We need people to show why a more rapid switch from fossil fuels is possible (which it is) and fewer apologists for a destructive industry which needs to end but wants to take as long as possible to do so.


I've reduced my electricity usage by two thirds in the past couple of years, since the computer 'died' I've been using a tablet - and recharging that is a tiny % of the computer usage. Add just a couple of more efficient appliance upgrades and a switch from an old analog radio to DAB (I don't do tv) and my spend works out at a little over £2 pw - probably under $3. It's definitely doable. I was amazed at the difference with each successive change - especially as there were at least two 10% electricity price increases during that time.


I am acquainted with Richard Heinberg and his work over the years. Your accusations are unfounded. This was an introductory piece to a longer work and that is the context in which it should be understood. CD chose to post this introduction and people may not realize that is all that it is meant to be.

But I can assure you that Heinberg is an independent expert on fossil fuels and energy depletion and is not an apologist for that industry. He wants to see a world where there is a workable combination of powering down and using renewable energies for what is needed. He is simply acknowledging that getting there will not be as simple as some would like to think and will require more than magically substituting renewable energy to power the same economic model we have now, much less a growing one.


Hi Richard,

I would like to make a few observations. First a link to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjNDiBCb-mE The Lessons of the Loess Plateau. Just that the narrative is not honest. Indigenous folks the world over have lived in harmony with the environment without destroying it. It requires generally an egalitarian community.

Second and to the point is the question why Dish Stirling or Dish Engine or Dish Free Piston, is not really a much talked about solar technology. Yet it seems to have much going for it. I have not found a truly dispassionate argument against it. Here are some links:





With all due respect, I am going by what is presented and by his previously published pieces on CD. This may be an introduction to another piece but that is an irrelevancy. It as presented here is not even a piece but a self promotion. You want to call it an introduction but it is at most an introduction to his website and a come on because of it.

There is nothing here except manipulation. No facts nor data to be analyized or discussed but just manipulative assessments and opinions which are in fact presenting a fossil fuel industry position. Once again I did not make the simplistic accusation each person who has taken issue with me did about the criticisms I raise. Excuse me but promoting one's site and one's book is not a selfless act okay. You folk are talking like he is some martyr here.

In fact what he is doing here is outrageous. It would also seem that he wishes to avoid criticism of his views and positions and have people go to his site instead of airing the views here. Yet he advertised here which is a sign of mediocrity and is mildly unethical but hardly unique solely to him on CD.

That said, what he does say is the issue with me and the reason for my criticism. He is skillful with language and evoking an emotional response albeit one of calm assurance and wisdom but it is false. I repeat it is false! He presents a viewpoint that is at present one of the fall back positions of the fossil fuel industry. That is, that that getting off fossil fuels is eventually necessary but it will take so much time, so much money and will cause great disruption and inconvenience people as well as force them to a kind of rationing or reduction of their energy usage.

How about that he is full of it? Oh how shocking a thing to say! How about he is too chummy with the fossil fuel insiders community and sees things from their point of view too much? How about the reality that what he is claiming is belied by the rapid success of Germany's switching to alternatives as well as other countries? According to his argument, Germany can't have done what they have done so rapidly nor so painlessly! How about that he is just another go slow and it will be painful apologist for the fossil fuel industry and we don't need more of that. You and he and others seem to think that there is a rush to get off fossil fuels whereas the rest of the world is fighting hard to make the switch go faster before it is too late!

BTW...He has the right to voice his opinion but just look at how any criticism of it is being attacked. Odd that wouldn't you say? It is as if I were the one saying that we need to keep using fossils fuels longer than is necessary.

Believe what you are told if you want but people in the fight against climate change do not need to have yet another fossil fuel apologist's views go without being criticized.

I remind you and others again to use your own eyes and judgement and ask yourselves whether or not he is just presenting the same reasonable excuses promoted by the industry about us needing to go slow (as if that is a good thing somehow) wanting to switch from fossil fuels? Ask yourself whether what he says is necessary for everyone was necessary for Germany? It wasn't was it? He is very good at making this go slow perspective sound reasonable.

Except that we will not have anywhere near that much time. So going slow is a recipe for increasing sorrow and in fact increased pain, suffering and death for many. Hundreds of millions of refugees and killer heat. That reality just needs more than some reasonable excuses and more go slow - pity the poor fossil fuel companies because they just want to provide us with energy. It is baloney.

We don't need reasonable excuses and rationalization so for going slow getting off fossil fuels. We need innovation and determination instead.


Heinberg has written several books in which he provides tons of data. I invited him several years back to participate in a debate I organized on energy depletion and he had very vigorous disagreements with an industry insider.

As far as opening my eyes and using judgment, as I said I have a long history of familiarity with Heinberg's work and, based on your comments, you don't. With all due respect, you are apparently only familiar with the notifications posted at his website that CD chooses to cross-post. Read his books and familiarize yourself with the Museletter blog that he has written for years at http://richardheinberg.com/, at which he goes into the issues more deeply.

Again, this was something sent out to the email list for the nonprofit he works for and the assumption is that people on that list have some familiarity with him and the topic already. It was an introduction and notification of a report that was published at the site.

Do we know that Heinberg advertised here as you say or is that an assumption on your part? As far as I know, CD chose to cross-post this off the website of the nonprofit he works for.


Excuse me for not being omniscient okay. I stated that I am going on wht is presented here and from other articles he has written posted on CD. You say this was sent out as a promo to many sites well fine, a promo is what I said it was. In any case, I am taking issue with what I have read of his as presented here ( and one prior visit to the site to familiarize myself with the views presented). To be sure, I am rarely impressed by someone's status. I go by what they say and could care less as to who they are or were or what books they wrote or whatever.

I go buy what they say and say to hell with their self promotions. People are too used to dealing with uneducated people and dumbed down viewpoints. If what you say is correct than it is whether you are someone with status or not. If it is wrong then it is wrong in the same measure. You have related his resume and obviously you feel that I should be suitably impressed. Do you also think that I should think he is correct because he wrote a book? Cheney wrote a book too. He is very accomplished and intelligent. He has status and more. I didn't read it ...lol.

I go by what I read and all the rest is malarkey! So what if he wrote books. If they say what he is saying here they were wrong and probably didn't sell well.

When you wish to discuss my criticisms of his 'go slow' approach then please do so. Meanwhile I hope you notice that you offered your personal opinion about him but you did not discuss the criticisms that I spoke to.

Whether you notice it or not, these are pretty much standard industry insider views on why we should go slow switching from fossil fuels. I am uninterested in 'debate the resume' and showing reverence accordingly, okay? Call me a heretic to the status quo but I am saying as clearly as possible that these are industry insider rationalizations for prolonging the use of fossil fuels - the very go slow - that we are trying to fight. Language is such a facile tool and very often it sounds like what someone wants to hear but actually it says something else entirely.

Go slow is saying we need to get off fossil fuels but it is not useful to anyone except the industry. We don't need to go slow and what is odd is that he thinks people need to be convinced that we should go slow. Why? How does going so slow benefit the world? It is a crock. Insider crock if you ask me.

I think instead that we need to go faster and apply much more pressure on governments to switch from fossil fuels.

And I said so.

I am not afraid to think for myself and I also do research and have for decades.


Nothing like sustaining an argument that has no substance.

Arrogance personified.


Do you mean my responding to people who post to me? Or do you think I shouldn't?

In fact your comment is cryptic and I notice that you are flaunting that you use multiple screen names again and you want to comment about arrogance because I responded to people? If you are even talking about me? However all I can say to you is that for all that you profess to be cognizant of the way language is used and the way some people are plants inserted in the zeitgeist of corporate society, you seem unaware.

If you think the 'go slow' and be prepared to suffer meme as professed by this author concerning the switch from fossil fuels is the way to go then that is how you feel. I think there is a world of difference even between two people who both agree that we need to switch to alternatives. One says we need to proceed slowly and another says the opposite.

Btw...what are you saying? You never said. Lol


Can you please share one actual statement by Richard Heinberg where he advocates for going slow in the transition to renewable energy?


Richard Heinberg spent much of the past ten years telling his audiences that global warming/climate change was a worry for the time around 2100, meanwhile we were about to crash from peak oil. Now he's smoothly slipped away from the world running out of oil to the hot issue of today (not 2100) global warming. But he still doesn't tell us that the income of some of us is going to drop -- but he avoids choosing sides about who that will be, the 1% or the 99%.
Pope Francis has written carefully about global warming and HAS told us who he thinks should bear the burden of change. Pope Francis tells us the rich in both the global north and in the LDC of the global south should bear the burden.
Richard Heinberg should start saying which side he is on, for the rich or for the rest of us. And then tell us policies that might redistribute income in the USA, from the top 20% to the bottom 80%.
A forthright statement of changing his view, rather than walking away from denying global warming would lend future credibility.