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Air Quality

Published on May 16th, 2019 | by Barry A.F.


How Will Life Change If We Transition Away From Fossil Fuels?

May 16th, 2019 by  

As part of the trashing of the Green New Deal, the political right wing has claimed the deal will essentially ruin life as we know it, ban air travel, and even lead to cannibalism (no joke).

Let’s take a look at reality.

Today, if you want to go somewhere, you usually travel by vehicle. If you need heat, you turn on your furnace. If you want to charge your phone, you plug it into a power outlet, which also powers your TV, microwave, air conditioning, and other appliances. And when you need food, there is an entire industry dedicated to growing it. (Of course, if you’re in the US, your right-wing government is dedicated to bankrupting its farmers.)

In a post-carbon world, our electricity will come from different sources. Instead of coal/oil/natural gas/hydro/nuclear, it will come from solar/wind/hydro/batteries. You will plug your phone in to charge exactly the same as you do today. Your TV and microwave also won’t know the difference because when you turn them on, the voltage of the electrons powering them are molecularly identical to those that come from fossil fuels.

Appliances will become more efficient at doing the same job as they do today as technology advances and governments mandate that manufacturers sell more efficient appliances. This is not technically necessary in a post-carbon world, but paying a bit more upfront and saving many times that money over the life of an appliance as the upcharge is bad for profit gouging but good for consumers and reduces the need for generating capacity. You get to have your cake and eat it too. Soylent Green evaded.

How you travel will change. An EV will cost you less to own if you need one at all (let’s ignore self driving for now). If you have a home charger, you start the day with a full tank everyday. If you don’t have a home charger, you will probably have to charge once a week or so at a charger. For example, Tesla’s destination chargers are meant for places like grocery stores, malls, restaurants, etc. You plug in when you get there, and when you leave your car is charged. Or you can use a 1000 mph Supercharger.

You will also save money in repairs since EVs have so many fewer parts to break. And no more oil changes. Your fuel will likely cost at least 50% less then you’re paying now. Also, you pay more upfront for the vehicle today but in the not distant future people will pay less to buy that EV.

And you get even more in this bargain — lack of engine noise, vastly improved acceleration, the ability to precondition your car before you enter it (in winter your car is warm as soon as you open the door and the AC has pre-cooled it in the summer), no price shocks from oil’s cyclical movements, vastly reduced air pollution leading to better human health, reduced medical expenses, reduced mortality, and so on.

Electrification of other vehicles will benefit you as well. Beyond their lack of pollution, electric semis will deliver products more cheaply, meaning lower prices (assuming competition prevents businesses from pocketing the difference). Electric motorcycles won’t wake you up at night as they drive by your residence. Quiet electric garbage trucks can run all night. Transportation by train will become cheaper. Farm equipment and construction vehicles will become quieter and cheaper to operate, also hopefully leading to lower prices.

Heating, air conditioning, and hot water will be produced by electricity. Air conditioning is already fully electrical, but expect efficiency to continue increasing. Heating can come from resistance heat or heat pumps, which work in cold temperatures — they can have trouble in the far north but geothermal and air source heat pumps are continuing to improve (though, geothermal is a kettle of fish I won’t get into here). Hot water can also be heated with heat pump water heaters at 200–250% efficiency, not commonly done today but units are already on the market (though, demand has been sluggish — more awareness is needed for more demand).

Interestingly, since about 2/3 of current energy usage is wasted in generator and other inefficiencies we only need to replace about 1/3 of our current usage with renewables to make everything electrical.


The end of fossil fuels will end most smog days. (Forest fires, however, will increase in frequency from the warming we have already locked in and infrequent events like volcano eruptions will still occur.) There will be no more oil spills since oil will no longer need transporting. There will be no world conflicts over oil since its value will become nil, and that will realign the global order because no one can hold us hostage with oil or even threaten to.

Finally, power will cost less than it does today, inflation adjusted.

So, what will be the downsides?

Today’s EVs in general have less range than gas/diesel cars, but in the future battery technology will give us as much or even more range than your current vehicle and may even reduce charging times to below ICE. You can already buy EVs with up to 600 km (370 mile) range today, even if they cost extra at the moment.

Electricity will get more complicated behind the meter. As a consumer, you won’t notice the difference but power companies will have to predict production (they already do this part), they will have to store some of it in batteries, industrial users may have to deal with demand management (which is already in use with fueled fossil power but may need some expanding), and they will need more interconnectors for moving bulk power from one place to another at higher volumes then we do today. We already have this technology. It does not need inventing. This has all been modeled and 100% renewable energy is already technically feasible.

Airplane travel on electricity is in its infancy. Research is continuing and electric flying is already about to take off (pun intended) and we should either find the efficiencies to make it work for long-haul flights, alter the technology so it can run on less energy, develop higher energy density batteries, develop biofuel replacements, or simply offset the carbon created by carbon sequestration (bad idea) or plant trees.

Technically, we don’t even need to make buildings or appliances more efficient, but if we need less energy, then its easier to meet our needs with renewables since we don’t have to deploy as much of it. Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is a variation of making appliances more efficient, where the upfront cost is a bit higher but saves many times that extra cost over the life of the building. Also, more efficient buildings means more resilience during the now more rare power outages.

So, why does the right fear all of this? Because it’s slightly different then business as usual — and the oil companies pay right-wing politicians.




About the Author

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). While I never actually got around to building an EV the interest remained. And I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), so I dig into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism.

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