Another Brain Freeze at the Times

[Damn.  John beat me to this story.  As soon as I banged out a draft and went to post I saw that John had already worked it over.  Another failure of editorial coordination here at Power Line.  Should I pile on?  Yeah, why not.  There’s one little item in this story I can add to.]

Are New York Times editorial writers complete innumerate nincompoops?  Okay, silly question.  The answer is a self-evident truth.  This sentence finally made me spit my coffee: “Recent studies suggest that, globally, renewable energy will grow faster than any other energy source in the coming decades.”

This is simple-minded drivel that wouldn’t make a sub-moron’s mouth twitch if he’d sat through the first day of a statistics class.  All of these studies are based on pure percentage growth rates—not absolute amounts of energy produced by source.  It is the same kind of logic as someone who wonders how a swimmer can drown in a Minnesota lake that averages only two feet deep.  Example: if you go from one unit of something to two, look!  Wow!  A 100 percent growth rate!  While if you go from 100 to 105 units of something, we’ll that’s only a five percent growth rate, even though it five times the amount of end product as the source with the 100 percent growth rate.

All of the renewable energy studies and forecasts play that game because the renewable output is starting from such a low base, and never compare the actual amount of energy growth with other sources.  So, for example, Germany since 1990 has increased it solar power by 22,689 percent (according to data from BP’s latest Statistical Review of World Energy), but after all that growth only accounts for 1.1 percent of Germany’s electricity supply.   According to the BP data, guess which energy source over the last 10 years produced the largest total amount of new energy in the world?  Coal.  A somewhat inconvenient truth.  A student who tried to pass off the Times claim in Statistics 101 would get an F on the exam.  (And this leaves aside the point John makes, namely, that nearly all “renewable” energy sources require huge government subsidies.  Isn’t the social welfare state unsustainable enough?  How does the Times think that scaling up renewable energy won’t also end in bankruptcy?

The numbers for China are even more embarrassing. When measured in percentage terms, China’s growth in renewable energy from 2000 through 2010 certainly sounds impressive—up 1,545 percent!! Yes, China built a lot of new coal plants, too, but its coal-generated energy only increased 132 percent.  Looks like renewables are the story, no?  Guess what: China built 85 times as much new coal capacity as solar and wind capacity in the last decade, when measured by energy output rather than percentage growth off the base.  All of the projections from IEA and EIA for the next 25 years have more new energy coming from fossil fuels than from renewables.  (For more on this, see here and here.  Nifty charts and graphs.)

The Times editorial board really should stop drinking those Times Square banana nut smoothies on their coffee breaks.  Although it may not help, as it appears their brain freeze is permanent by this point.

The lesson here is obvious: Nothing gets by Power Line.

JOHN adds: Hey, man: when we double up on the Times editorial board, it isn’t a failure of editorial coordination, it’s a concentration of forces on low-hanging, high-value targets!

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