I'm going to put it out there - the green energy myths are actually cons. There is no place in the scientific or engineering realm where it is OK to falsify data, make claims that are not true, put forward unfounded opinion, or promise that some technology has potential that it does not.
And yet - here we are.
Carbon Capture and Storage
Solar PV roadways
hypercars and hyper loops
And many others. One of the most powerful things about these myths is their resilience, their sticking power. Somewhere inside your head, you are thinking, "OK, so maybe it's not viable right now, but Stanford wouldn't have a centre for this, or the government wouldn't be funding research for it, or it wouldn't be in my Linkedin sustainable technology feed if it was actually fake, right?"
And besides - you have been trained to believe scientists and engineers, they have rock solid ethics and must report accurate information. So it is understandable that you buy the con. But we are going to uncover and understand the con, and then you can move on to something useful.
The person or entity running the con has to have a reason, something they will gain if you buy into their false narrative. This is confusing. None of these cons are actually available in the market. Don't believe me? Go shopping. Get yourself a hydrogen car or hydrogen home storage or whatever it is we are supposed to want hydrogen for. There is no company in the world designing and manufacturing CCS plant for coal fired power plants. You can't buy a solar roadway.
So how are the conmen making their money?
1) The Charity Con. You can con people into giving you money for something that they don't get personal benefit from. It's called charity. Peopled give money to charity because they believe their donation will contribute to the greater good. The solar PV roadway raised more than $2M this way.
2) The Research Con. You can get government to give you money for something that isn't a thing yet, it's called research. in order to get that money, you have to make an argument that your thing is needed. But you are making that argument to politicians, so they very rarely know the technology viability. In the USA and Europe and many other countries, there was a grand excitement about hydrogen. There were so many new materials and science that would be needed, that many researchers were eager to put their hands up for research funding. But these researchers rarely were interested in the logic or the big picture, and they would NEVER be asked to provide an actual product. The science advisor for President Obama, Steven Chu, questioned the government spending on hydrogen. But there was outcry from researchers who were depending on that funding. So - one part of the con is the wilful blindness of researchers who don't want to admit the impracticality of the research they are getting funding for.
3) The Snake Oil Con. You can get investors to speculate on making money. This con requires a really good conman who has to sell the potential of their great venture and excite investors to think they will be in on the start of a big profit. This kind of conman almost always has some previously successful ventures that lend them credibility. They can also borrow development expectations from others. For example, hydrogen cars cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct, but we can borrow from other technologies that started expensive and got cheaper over time as mass production was engineered and the market expanded and the supply chain became established. Borrowing stories usually isn't backed up by actual production cost estimates or market analysis. One of the great conmen for this kind of con is Elon Musk.
4) The End Game Con. Some companies spend some money on "developing" the miracle technology that they will never intend to manufacture and sell. Why would car companies or oil companies run this con? It looks like they are running the con on themselves! No, it is you and policy makers they are conning. Car companies for example spend money on advertising to convince people to buy their cars. Fair enough. That is just advertising, which sometimes stretches the truth or implies things that aren't sensible. But the con is actually about creating a false belief and with this, the licence to operate business as usual without making the necessary changes. Let me explain. If all people who drive cars now for their work, school or shopping trips understood that oil supply is going to decline dramatically, then a significant number of them would change something. Some would make a few less shopping trips per week by being more organised. Some would tune up their cars and drive more carefully to use less fuel to make the same trips. OK, these behaviour changes don't worry our car maker conman. But consider another subset of drivers who decide to trade in their Ford Explorer for a Honda Civic. What about the subset who decide to hang onto their old car for longer, because why spend so much money on something that is on the way out? What about the people who decide to look for a home in a walkable area of the city with access to their work and school by bike path and metro? These are dangerous people. If enough people started thinking like this, car sales could drop! And that is the objective of the con. Make sure that all drivers continue with the belief that they MUST use a car in order to live, and to have faith that any problem of emissions or fuel supply will be sorted out by the trusty car maker who will switch over to hydrogen or electric cars for them. Don't for one minute let people start to think about how much better life would be in a world where they didn't need a car for most trips... So, this money spent on "researching" and advertising their forays into green technology is actually well spent psychological conditioning investment for their mass market. Is BP really going to change from an oil company to a biofuel company? Not.
5) The Politics con. Politicians know that you know about the head-on collision our little planet is having with our historical and future greenhouse gas emissions. The overriding mission of politicians is to stay in power. One half of the politicians use the con of questioning the science and appealing to your fear and tendency toward wilful blindness. Yeah, they are bad guys. But the other half of the politicians use the con of green solutions. Their con is to insist that they are doing the right thing and taking action by setting targets, measuring emissions and supporting clean energy technology solutions. But - a politician who says that they are supporting substitution of renewables for fossil energy are conning the public into a belief that they have a solution. The evidence is pretty clear that this substitution of wind and solar for fossil fuel is not scalable as claimed. When confronted with facts, most politicians will actually admit this falsehood in their declarations of what we "could do". "We are committed to solving climate change." "Maybe it won't work, but we have to start somewhere." Maybe some of your green politicians mean well, and have actually been conned themselves. But being ignorant of what you are talking about isn't a good reason for passing on a con just to get votes as a politician who cares about climate change.
6) The God-complex con. This one is as old as people. Somewhere in a cave 60,000 years ago there was a guy who stood up in front of others and said he could tell what the gods wanted and that everyone must paint their noses red in order to guarantee a good hunt. People listened and followed him and believed. Sure enough - the hunt was successful (well sharpening the spears and having a plan based on experience and skill also probably helped.) That kind of power - bing the special person who knows something others don't, is worth conning people for. Ask any of the televangelists. My favourite God-complex conman is Amory Lovins. You can buy his books or watch his TED talks and be no closer to figuring out what he is really selling or what he is even talking about. But he sells a lot of energy hopium, and that has a sizeable market.
If we understand what kind of con is running, who is running it and why, then we should be able to close the door in their face and say, "No thanks" - pick up tools and get to work on real projects for real transition.