Mark Mills testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in a full committee hearing to examine infrastructure needs.
Watch the full testimony here
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to testify again before this Committee. I’m a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute where I focus on science, technology, and energy issues. I am also a Faculty Fellow at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University where the focus is on future manufacturing technologies. And, for the record, I’m a strategic partner in a venture fund dedicated to energy software.
Since the purpose of this hearing is to considering draft legislation that addresses the infrastructure implications associated with shifting the nation’s energy supply towards lower-carbon options, I believe it would be prudent to consider the full range of options that could achieve such goals, especially those that could do so rapidly and cost-effectively. But before outlining some options to consider, I think it’s important to begin with the global framework within which we are necessarily operating. It is obvious that the United States U.S. is far from alone in aspirations to “de-carbonize” national energy systems. This has critical implications because all infrastructures have supply chains, and the U.S. will be in global competition for the resources, hardware and machines needed to build the kind of lower-carbon systems being proposed.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) has issued a very useful, recent report that provides a sense of perspective on where policies are attempting to take the world in terms of a global “roadmap” to “net zero.” Specifically, that path envisions over the coming two decades a 1,200% increase in global energy production from wind and solar machines. In the IEA’s roadmap, those two energy systems alone account for about three-fourths of all forecast growth in energy supply to the world.
It bears noting that the IEA roadmap also envisions, for example, bans on the sale of cars with internal combustion engines and thus forecasts hundreds of millions of battery-only cars that will further increase demand on infrastructures for both electricity generation and battery mineral. In addition the IEA “net zero” roadmap envisions, for example, policies that will induce or force what the IEA terms “behavior changes” such as, for example, a doubling of the number of global households without a car of any kind.
Setting aside issues associated with achieving the kinds of “behavior changes” that the IEA—and others—propose for reducing energy use in order to implement the “net zero” path, consider instead the physical challenges for producing energy. It is a truism that’s often lost in debates over different visions for energy production, but all energy systems require building physical infrastructures and machines. This reality has salience for plans to expand the use of wind, solar and battery technologies because building those energy systems, compared to conventional hydrocarbon technology, entails using roughly 1,000% more materials to deliver a unit of energy to society.
Mark P. Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of several reports including Mines, Minerals, and "Green" Energy: A Reality Check and The "New Energy Economy": An Exercise in Magical Thinking. For a review of his policy recommendations for the new administration, visit the memo he contributed to the Manhattan Institute's Transition 2021 series.
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