Disingenuous Green Power

A friend and I recently talked about hydrogen cars, to wit:

I read an article this morning about hydrogen powered cars that explained that the hydrogen is produced using solar energy. Sounds like a promising option for the future

The problem with proponents (typically marketing) of most “green” technology is that they pretend it’s all powered by green sources or they do an extreme close-up of one part of a process, and hide/ignore the rest. In reality, we simply don’t produce enough green power to manufacture the volumes of hydrogen we need… well, perhaps currently while there’s only a few prototypes on the road, but that’s disingenuous. Once production is ramped up to meet volume, it’ll be back to nukes, coal and other fossil fuels to supply the power for electrolysis to make the hydrogen. And even now, every kilowatt spent making hydrogen from solar power is another kilowatt not green somewhere else. Like this:

Grid power supplied = grid power consumed + grid loss (inefficiency)

Which I think is obvious? If you want to use power, you have to make it somewhere; it doesn’t spring from nothingness. So when adding a process to make hydrogen, you have to account for the energy:

Power supplied + additional power to make hydrogen = Power consumed + Hydrogen + Loss

And if we break down power into bad/good ways of making power:

Bad power supplied + Good power supplied + additional power to make hydrogen = Power consumed + hydrogen + loss

So marketing says: Oh, and only green fuels were used for hydrogen! They’re pretending this is true, but really:

(Bad power + power to make up for that usurped to make hydrogen) + (Good power - green energy usurped for hydrogen) + (100% green power to make hydrogen) = = Power consumed + hydrogen + loss

You can replace your gasoline car with a diesel or vice versa, but there’s still fuel required; we see that. And you can switch your furnace between gas/propane/heating oil (diesel with colorant), but you still have to put some kind of fuel in. With any of these, you know somewhere or other the fuel got dug out of the ground. Perhaps a given fuel is better or worse, but they all have impact. And conceivably, you could trace the fuel back to a point of origin. (Where it was dug up/extracted.)

The difference with electric is you can’t see where it comes from. Once power enters the grid, it’s all the same, all homogenized. Does the 40 watts to run my laptop come from green sources, or a coal plant, or Ginna nuke plant, or where? You could say that because I pay $5 a month extra for wind power, that it’s all coming from a wind farm. But if you shut down enough fossil fuel and/or nuclear plants, I still suffer a brownout or blackout. So is it really true my energy sourced from wind power?

Green power is marketing and psychology: we’re glad of the self-deception so we can feel good, tell ourselves we did our part as we continue to exploit the planet. The real solution is that we need to live in a simpler, less power-hungry way, cutting our population… but few are willing to do that. It’s easier to believe the white (green) lies because the alternative is to change our lives, which is inconvenient. Perhaps green tech makes a dent, lowering impact or changing its manner, but is it curing the problem? Not really, it’s just mitigating it to a degree.

Apologies to all the science nuts for inconsistency about power vs. energy. I’m using them colloquially, not technically, but the argument stands.