Alternative Energy Booklist: Biofuels, Batteries, Solar, Wind, Nuclear, Hydropower, Hydrogen, Fusion, Geothermal, Wind & tidal, Muscle power, Far out

Why Alternative Energy can’t replace fossil fuels

cartoon Alt Energy


I was in college when the first energy crisis of 1973 happened and joined an alternate technology group. We watched engineers build electric cars, windmills, and convert a car to run on methanol. I got to help build a solar collector by drinking beer and painting the cans black. Saving the planet was not only going to be fun, it was going to be a party!

In 2000 I began reading yahoo group energyresources and runningonempty about the future energy crisis that would begin after world oil production peaked.  Ridiculous! Outrageous! I set out for U.C. Berkeley to read the latest research on wind, solar, and other alternative energy to prove them wrong, meanwhile reading some of the books on the fossil fuel reading list, and came to the conclusion that they were right.  Alternative energy simply can’t replace fossil fuels for reasons explained in the books and articles listed below.  Here are just a few of the reasons:

Scale. Oil is the densest form of energy on the planet next to uranium.  To replace the one cubic mile of oil, which is burned world-wide every year, you’d need to build every year for 50 years: 200 Dams (10,000 total), OR 2,600 Nuclear plants (130,000 total), OR 5,200 coal plants (260,000 total), OR 1,642,000 wind turbines (82,100,000 total), OR 4,562,500,000 rooftop PV (22,812,500,000 total)Biofuels: We consume about 105 exa joules (EJ) per year in the USA.  If you burned every living plant and its roots, you’d have 94 EJ of energy and we could all pretend we lived on Mars.  (Patzek “The Real Biofuel Cycles,” Letter to Science, Science and “The Real Biofuel Cycles,” Online Supporting Material to Science 312, 2006).  Biofuels have negative EROEI and too many other issues to list (Friedemann, “Peak Soil“).

97% of transportation runs on oil.   Large vehicles like tractors and trucks can’t be electrified or run on batteries, because the battery would be too huge – even a 100% efficient battery can only store 3% of the energy that the same volume of oil would deliver.

Solar, wind, nuclear, hydrogen, biofuels, and the electric grid all depend on fossil fuels throughout their life cycle, from the mining and crushing of ore, to fabrication, delivery over bitumen and coal-power-crushed concrete highways, to maintenance and operations.  No form of alternative energy produces enough energy to reproduce itself plus deliver energy to society.

In addition, all alternative energy solutions are limited by shortages of minerals

More booklists

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

Overview of Alternative & Renewable Energy Resources 


Electric Grid: falling apart




Solar & Wind






Wind & Tidal

Muscle Power

Far Out

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One Response to Alternative Energy Booklist: Biofuels, Batteries, Solar, Wind, Nuclear, Hydropower, Hydrogen, Fusion, Geothermal, Wind & tidal, Muscle power, Far out

  1. Jeff Strahl says:

    Good stuff. But i feel like delusions are winning the day. Over at Resilience, which used to be Energy Bulletin, the trend is now to promote the notion that not only can alternative energy take over from fossil fuels, but the entire infrastructure can be and is indeed being replaced while the present one decays. Recently, Kevin Carson posted an article there attacking those who see metabolic collapse in our future, e.g. James Kunstler and John Michael Greer, and giving as his example how the cables which are now being used for long distance communication are being replaced by satellites which require few sorces or a support structure. Greer pointed out in response that these satellites in fact require the space program and its huge usage of materials. A couple of days ago came this response by Lakis Polycarpou of City of the Future,
    He admits Carson got this wrong, but then says that most communications don’t require satellites, only transmission towers. And these don’t require a vast support structure? He went on to contend that the vast growth in the number of cell phones in the world prove Carson’s case, as if these don’t require depleting raw materials and vast amounts of energy to produce and maintain. Even sites which used to “get it” seem to be losing it.