Wind + Solar = A Cubic Mile of Lead

oil_age How much lead would it take to build enough lead-acid batteries to enable construction of an all-wind-and-solar electrical grid to power the present energy use of the United States?

My new hero Tom Murphy reports:

Putting the pieces together, our national battery occupies a volume of 4.4 billion cubic meters, equivalent to a cube 1.6 km (one mile) on a side. The size in itself is not a problem: we’d naturally break up the battery and distribute it around the country. This battery would demand 5 trillion kg (5 billion tons) of lead.

How much lead exists in the Earth? 1.5 billion tons, or less than a third of what would be needed to build that cubic-mile battery.

This crucial point ought to be of particular interest to those of us who see the special problem with cars-first transportation within the looming catastrophe we are (not) facing. Since, according to the recently de-funded U.S. Energy Information Administration, transportation currently accounts for 27 percent* of overall U.S. energy use, it follows that there isn’t even enough lead on Earth to allow humans to run the planet’s existing automotive fleet on wind-and-solar-only. Indeed, even if so-called “electric cars” are twice as energy-efficient as present automobiles, it would take half the Earth’s remaining lead supplies to make a battery infrastructure capable of meeting the power-storage needs of an all-electric fleet in just the United States.

This, of course, is merely the half of it, because the above is just the story on the electricity-generation side. It says nothing about what a fleet of 250 million “electric cars” would also mean for the Earth’s supply of lithium, the element that is the basis for on-board storage of the electricity that gets extracted elsewhere.

Let’s all repeat the DbC mantra: Cars-first transportation was a capitalist pipe-dream.

*The EIA treats production of automobiles and their fuels, roadways, and various peripheral goods and services as part of the manufacturing sector, so its estimate of transportation-induced energy use is a serious under-statement of actuality.

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