Energy Establishment Stupendously, Spectacularly, Chronically, Woefully, Comically Wrong on Energy Trends

November 26, 2014

Above, Skip Pruss served as Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s Special Advisor for Renewable Energy and the Environment, Michigan’s Chief Energy Officer, and Chair of the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Council.   He is  co-founder and principal of 5 Lakes Energy.

Predicting the future or new energy used to be hard. Now, thanks to the Energy Information Agency, and a host of fossil fuel industry experts, more skillful predictions can be made of renewable energy deployment.
The technique is, you take whatever they say for renewable energy output, multiply the amount by 10, cut the deployment time by half, and there’s your ballpark number.


Moreover, what stands out is the arrogant and completely insulated-from-reality mindset of the self styled practical “grown-ups” of the energy establishment.
The quintessential example from the past would be Amory Lovins’ 1976 predictions of future US energy use, which were radically lower than the mainstream view at the time – and rather stunningly accurate.

That pattern has continued to the present day – curiously, (or not), always skewed in the direction of the Oil, Coal, Gas, and Nuclear narrative.

Utility Dive:

(White House Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Dan) Utech referenced a recent chart comparing projections for global wind and solar deployment from Greenpeace, often regarded as too biased to be authoritative, and from the International Energy Agency, long a globally respected source on energy statistics.

“Greenpeace nailed it and the IEA woefully underestimated it,” Utech said. “It is a reminder that though there are significant challenges, the renewables industries have a track record of beating expectations.”

greenpeacforecast2In this case, the example is what were once considered wildly unrealistic, idealistic and off the mark predictions by krazy kids from Greenpeace, turn out to have been conservative compared to real world performance of renewable energy tech.  Energy establishment projections are not only wrong, but, well, “wrong” just doesn’t quite cut it.  Many “expert” predictions have been so wildly off the mark, they hardly even rise to the level of “wrong”.
Is there another, stronger expression for wrong? Ultra-wrong? Mega-wrong? Wrong like a Boss?


Lovins reflected on and updated his predictions in 2012.

As the world shuddered from the 1973 oil shock, the economist Phil Gramm predicted that just as with whale oil, innovators would innovate, capitalists would invest, markets would clear, and substitutes for petroleum would ultimately emerge. He was right. By 2010, the United States was using 60 percent less oil to make $1 of gdp than it had in 1975. Now, the other shoe is dropping: since its use in the United States peaked in 2005, coal has lost one-fourth of its share of the U.S. electric services market to renewable energy, natural gas, and efficient use.

After just a few centuries, the anomalous era of oil and coal is gradually starting to come to an end. In its place, the era of everlasting energy is dawning.

Underlying this shift in supply is the inexorable shrinkage in the energy needed to create $1 of gdp. In 1976, I heretically suggested in these pages that this “energy intensity” could fall by two-thirds by 2025.
By 2010, it had fallen by half, driven by no central plan or visionary intent but only by the perennial quest for profit, security, and health.
Still-newer methods, without further inventions, could reduce U.S. energy intensity by another two-thirds over the next four decades, with huge economic benefits.

New coal and nuclear plants are so uneconomical that official U.S. energy forecasts predict no new nuclear and few new coal projects will be launched. Investors are shunning their high costs and financial risks in favor of small, fast, modular renewable generators. These reduce the financial risk of building massive, slow, monolithic projects, and needing no fuel, they hedge against volatile gas prices.

Already, wind and solar power’s falling costs are beating fossil-fueled power’s and nuclear power’s rising costs. Some solar panels now sell wholesale for less than $1 a watt (down 75 percent in three years), some installed solar-power systems in Germany sell for $2.80 a watt, and some U.S. wind-power contracts charge less than three cents per kilowatt-hour—all far below recent forecasts.

Solar power’s plummeting cost, a stunning market success, is ruining some weaker or slower solar-cell-makers, but solar and wind power are extinguishing the prospects of coal and nuclear power around the world. So is cheap new natural gas—a valuable transitional resource if its many uncertainties can be resolved, but not a serious disappointment if they cannot, since higher efficiency and renewable energy should lower the demand for gas.

This video discusses Lovins and the “Road Not Taken” in the 1970s:






17 Responses to “Energy Establishment Stupendously, Spectacularly, Chronically, Woefully, Comically Wrong on Energy Trends”

  1. Ron Voisin Says:

    Maybe rather than forecasting what our energy mix would be they were trying to forecast what it rationally SHOULD be.

  2. […] takeup of renewable energy in the last 14 years, indeed since the Oil Crisis of the 1970s. Energy Establishment Stupendously, Spectacularly, Chronically, Woefully, Comically Wrong on Energy T… Sign in or Register Now to […]

  3. How interesting. One wonders what the limits of cost reduction are, especially for solar. Is this an example of J. Rifkin’s zero marginal cost dilemma where the energy source essentially becomes free at some point and no longer profitable for big companies to produce. Maybe not until you can print them on your 3D printer. We hear of a major advance by some academic group regularly. Here is a fascinating one in Extreme Tech (, which sounds completely loopy until you read it. You read about expensive nano-engineered light absorbers and then somebody come along with a method that you feel you could almost do yourself that works just as well.

    The 10-1/2 rule is hilarious. Ron’s comment is good, if you mean forecasts based simply on past performance.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    • L. Anthony – Rifkin has a better grasp of the future and is open about uncertainty. He has grasped that the paradigm has changed. Thats one reason IEA and EIA forecasts are wrong. To the point, zero marginal cost, prosumer and collaborative commons ideas have radically changed perspectives. These create the possibility of a culture that supports new values, like sustainability. Collaborative commons like Uber rideshare are an end run around the culture of mass consumption. Personal mobility is replaced by collaborative mobility, pointing to an alternative to endless growth in auto sales. This is but one example of a new approach that is in its infancy.

      • Christopher, I agree with all that you said. Rifkin’s book is very near the top of my list of books read in the past 18 months. It is filled with evidence of how commons can and do work–no more “tragedy.” But most of all his is an incredibly hopeful vision of the human future. Of course, that all has to be put in the context of his final chapter where he reiterates what may happen if we fail to address climate change.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “Of course, that all has to be put in the context of his final chapter where he reiterates what may happen if we fail to address climate change”.

          Ah yes, the small wrench in the works of all the bright-sidedness and wishful thinking we like to engage in. It would appear that we ARE “failing to address climate change” with the speed and effort needed for the task. The time bomb ticks on

          I am so damned tired of all the “projecting” and “forecasting” and “predicting” we do while our futures are really in the hands of the forces of evil. It could all turn to s**t in a heartbeat,and we are running out of time.

          (grumble, mutter, and growl)

    • That youtube ref is wrong. Here is Rifkin zero marginal cost.

  4. Peter – Thank you. Wonderfully communicated by Skip Pruss. I am more impressed with him every time I see his videos. Concise and precise.

    The EIA seems to have barely changed its tune, but the IEA has started to notice how badly they have forecast. IEA now predicts solar will be the largest source of electricity worldwide by 2050. They are probably wrong and still underestimating. In 2012, a scant two years ago, IEA predicted almost no solar by 2050.

    Breaking down their projections by source reveals the sheer lunacy. The situation is so bad it prompted a mass letter to Secretary Muniz.
    From EIA 2012 projections,

    – No PV added for more than a decade after 2016.
    – No thermal solar after 2014.
    – No wind after 2016 for 20 years.
    – Similar cessation for biomass.

    Its time to recognize that these institutions forecasts are utterly invalid and suspect.

    We need to move on from IEA and EIA forecasts and find some that are more believable and realistic.

    New projections have to take into account the growing scarcity of resources and the increased cost of harvesting them. The lack of water for thermal power plants is among the limiting factors to growth. We have unconsciously entered the era of “limits to growth”.

  5. Since Greenpeace estimates were most accurate, here are their forecasts for 2030 for wind.

    Click to access GWEO2014_WEB.pdf

    • dumboldguy Says:

      I have been sitting back for quire some time watching Arcus bury us in all his “projection-forecast-prediction-maybe it will happen” stuff without making any comment. He HAS stayed away from talking directly about science he doesn’t understand and appears to be having fun, so he’s doing little harm.

      He IS beginning to “over-rev” though, and I’m concerned that he will put a rod through the crankcase and coat the track with oil. Not good as we race towards an understanding of where the world is REALLY going with energy. Anyone who has ever driven at the limit knows what oil on the track produces.

      Arcus has provided us with a 60 page report, and it looks like a good one (but I doubt he has really read it or that any Crocker will in detail). I scanned it an sfound this paragraph:

      “There is much that we don’t know about the future, and there will no doubt be unforeseen shifts and shocks in the global economy as well as political ups and downs; and no one knows whether or not the global community is going to respond proactively to the threat of climate change, or try to do damage control after the fact. But it seems clear that for all of the reasons that wind power has gotten to where it is today, it will play a significant and growing role in our electricity supply”

      I knew there was a reason why I am a member of Greenpeace and send them $$$$—-they agree with me and they too can state the obvious!! I will bore everyone yet again by saying that bright-sidedness and wishful thinking will be the death of the planet. Looking 16, 26, or 36 years into the future to 2030, 2040, or 2050 is something that we must do to maintain a semblance of “control” over our destiny and our sanity, but it is mostly an exercise in futility.

      Babbling on about all the “projection-forecast-prediction-maybe it will happen years in the future” stuff is just like predicting the weather more than 5 days in advance, the situation is simply too complicated for that. The best “minds” on the planet can’t even predict the prices of everyday commodities with any accuracy over much shorter terms, and that’s why we have “shorts” and “longs” and people losing money while others make money.

  6. rayduray Says:

    So how cool is this?

    Headline: “Cool Discovery Blasts Summer Heat Into ‘the Cold Darkness of the Universe’ “

    • dumboldguy Says:

      It is VERY “cool”, especially in the hyperbole associated with sending heat into the “cold darkness of the universe” (I want mine sent to Alpha Centauri), and the “coolness” of the cold cash that these guys will suck up from the government and “investors” and live off for years.

      I wish them well, particularly in scaling up from a small plate-sized demonstration wafer to a system that can actually “cool” a building. The article didn’t really explain how they were going to get the heat up out of the building to the “miracle stuff” on the roof, and that’s the bigger problem IMO.

      Actually, wrapping a building in 2 feet of foam insulation and covering it with reflective foil might work pretty well too, and all that is proven technology. Windows are oversold, and corporate drones don’t need a “view”.

      (Personally, I’m going to put my money into Solar Roadways and CWET towers that use lots of water but are going to be built in deserts rather than this “pie in the sky” scheme—-at this point it doesn’t seem like more than a parlor trick).

    • Phillip Shaw Says:

      It sounds like they’ve put Maxwell’s Demon to work. Granted the article didn’t go into detail, but a wafer that can passively lower the temperature on one side several degrees over the other side would seem to violate basic thermodynamics. Last time I checked, energy is supposed to flow from the hot side to the cold side, not the other way around. But it’s been years since my engineering thermodynamics courses and maybe in that time they’ve amended the laws of thermodynamics.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        It has been years since I took any thermodynamics course also, but this seems to be a new field that came after my time anyway, and is not strictly “thermodynamics” but related to a new sort of “magic”—-thermal photonics. The Nature article is behind a paywall. so it doesn’t offer much help. I don’t think I will waste any time studying up on it until somebody beyond Bloomberg does a credible analysis.

        The Bloomberg article is the usual non-scientific hype that is designed to get investors eager to participate in the “pump and dump” game. Watch what the stock price of the yet-unformed company that will develop this “breakthrough” does.

        The article certainly has all the kinds of BS in it that will attract those who want to get rich on “science discoveries”. Talk about “amending the laws of thermodynamics”, the Bloomberg writer apparently never heard of them in the first place. To wit:

        “…. a kind of thermal funnel, drawing a building’s internal heat up through the roof.” (a “thermal funnel” that ” draws heat “up”?…..and just sucks it out of a building?)

        “….the new material teases this heat out of the building” (“teases”?)

        “….and shoots it out of the atmosphere, into the great beyond”. (WOW!—just watch them “heat bullets” go from the hyperbole gun into the great beyond!)

        “….The Stanford invention appears to successfully….shuttle the building’s heat up, up and away….” (up, up, and away? Is that a Buzz Lightyear quote?)

        “… performs the rarest of all feats: it introduces into energy debates a new, renewable resource and a new way of thinking about, literally, the universe: It’s the heat equivalent of an infinite garbage dump….” (My favorite. I’m always hoping to find “new ways of thinking about, LITERALLY, the universe”, particularly what an infinite garbage dump we can make it into—figuratively speaking, of course)

  7. […] I posted on how the Energy Information Agency’s projections for renewable energy have been consistently, laughably, off the mark. The EIA is also the agency that makes the grandiose predictions for natural […]

  8. […] ここでは主に木質バイオマスの割合が増えることが見込まれており、風力、太陽光は不思議なことに実質的な横倍が続くようです。ここで私たちはIRENAの作った奇妙な予測を論じるつもりはないのですが、しかし結局のところ、米国エネルギー情報局(EIA, Energy Information Administration)の基本データがどれほど非現実的であるかを外交的に示しているように見えます − 米国の風力、太陽光の市場が今後15年間で大幅に伸びないと信じる人がどれだけいるでしょうか?(EIAの予測についてのやや社交辞令を欠いた評価はこちら)[情報追加: CleanTechnicaのこちらの記事の方が断然よいといえます] […]

  9. […] despite the rapid uptake of renewable energy. It is, however, important to bear in mind the dismal performance of most predictions of the growth in renewable energy, and the dampening of demand by more […]

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