The real challenge in climate crisis is energy equity and the relationship to standards of living.
Let’s take a look at India for example in the fossil-fuel chart below (2019 data). Per person consumption is just over 6,000 KWh. In comparison, Sweden is over 19,000 KWh per person. The US stands at over 66,000 KWh per person. The Chinese account for just over 23,000 KWh per person — and a LOT of that is because they do all the energy-intense manufacturing for the US and EU markets. If you accounted for that, their consumption would be lower and that of the US and EU nations would be higher.
Equally interesting is mapping energy use to GDP:
Looking at the chart, it is pretty clear — the countries with higher GDPs (as a proxy for standard of living) are also significant fossil fuel users. Even Russia is more frugal than Canada. Switzerland has hydro and France has nuclear — which is used for Swiss pumped storage, and then used to supply “clean, non-nuclear” power to Germany. (Ireland does well overall.)
Talk about greenwashing!!
So now, with climate change in the works, the media is banging on India and China to cut back on greenhouse gases in every way possible. Like France and China, an obvious solution would be for India to build out more nuclear power plants rapidly. But, that is not possible as India has been excluded from the Nuclear Suppliers Group and does not have a domestic nuclear power industry. So the rate of nuclear power deployment is curtailed, leaving coal, gas and oil as the primary.
But, renewables … and what happens when monsoon starts and the skies cloud over for 2 weeks non-stop? Or when the wind stops? … “ah, but you just need batteries …” — at which point we need to understand that batteries are quite expensive in terms of KWh / $ for energy storage even mapped into the reasonable future. (And key inputs for batteries are mined in environmentally and morally challenging locations.)
India and China can’t afford this solution either — they are going to meet baseload needs, and the needs of their growing economies with whatever they can get. Today, that is coal, gas and oil — with renewables wherever and whenever possible.
No matter what, both India and China will see continued rise in standards of living, which we know lead to higher energy consumption. No one in these countries is going to accept a lower standard of living so that others can revel in a 10x higher energy consumption per person.
If we want India and China to make changes, we need to enable faster adoption of nuclear, along with energy-dense alternatives, affordable energy storage and transportation. That could be H2, or synthetic CH4 produced using renewables. (Inefficient, but addresses the storage + baseload issue.) Or moving from coal to gas.
The rate of change needs to be faster than the rate of economic growth, to ensure the ratio changes in favor of non-fossil, which we all want and need. Renewables will help — but baseload needs cannot be ignored, and will not be. There has to be storage — and energy equity — for the changes we want, to actually happen.