Keynote: Robert Bryce says Europe energy crisis has lessons for US

Robert Bryce looks at the energy crisis in Europe and sees a wake-up call for the U.S.

Too much reliance on Russian-supplied oil and gas – disrupted by that country’s war with the Ukraine – and not enough hydrocarbon production on the home front while pursuing wind and solar have left the United Kingdom reeling, Poland subsidizing households for coal purchases and a looming industrial power supply emergency throughout the European Union, Bryce told an audience of more than a thousand Monday afternoon.

Bryce, a keynote speaker at the GPA Midstream Convention, said the U.S. needs to realize that “energy security comes from the 3D grid. It comes from variety.” That mix includes hydrocarbon-based fuel for vehicles, machinery and electricity generation alongside renewables and nuclear power.

Bryce is author of six books on energy and innovation, including A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations. The journalist and Power Hungry podcaster’s latest documentary is “Juice: How Electricity Explains the World.”

In his speech “Renewables, Decarbonization, and the Future of Natural Gas,” Bryce said there has been a lot of talk about how the world is transitioning from hydrocarbon-based sources of energy to alternate ways of generating power, but that the data tells a different story.

In 2021, global hydrocarbon use grew 4.9 times faster than wind and solar. Gas grew twice as fast. Even oil consumption grew four times faster than solar and wind, he said. “So where’s the transition?”

Bryce said it would take the addition of 2,700 terawatt hours a year going into a zero-carbon grid needs to reach the Biden administration’s goal by 2035.

This is made even more difficult by resistance to large-scale wind and solar projects across the country. Since he started tracking reported rejections in 2016, Bryce said more than 350 communities have rejected wind and solar energy projects from California to Vermont.

The push by big companies, however, continues because of federal tax incentives, Bryce said. Existing tax incentives plus those coming from the Inflation Reduction Act by Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set aside $240 billion for renewable sources, about $33 billion for nuclear and just $28 billion for hydrocarbon projects.

Bryce said the tax incentives are driving investments by big companies in these projects and leaving nuclear, which is necessary for a reliable energy for the future, out in the cold.

Bryce pointed to the UK’s lack of energy diversity and the high natural gas prices it now has to pay – as much as 30 times what many of its European Union neighbors are paying – as a warning sign.

“The energy crisis in Europe is causing an existential crisis” that could lead to what one European company executive called a “deindustrialization” of Europe,” Bryce said.

The situation will force a change in Europe, but it will take time, he said.

“It’s the Iron Law of Electricity: people, businesses, and countries will do whatever they have to do to get the electricity they need,” Bryce said. That could mean gas drilling in Europe again. The crisis even has Germany considering lifting its long-held hydraulic fracturing ban. Bryce said that it will take thousands of wells across the continent and several years to make a dent.