The nations of the world are pursuing an unprecedented energy transition. Efforts are underway to force a shift from coal, oil, and natural gas to renewable energy sources by 2050. But key elements of the proposed transition suffer from major safety issues, specifically batteries for electric vehicles and electricity storage and hydrogen fuels for industry.
Most energy sources involve safety risks. Gasoline cars can explode or burn, especially after collisions. Natural gas pipelines and processing facilities have been known to explode or combust. Nuclear power plants have caused famous disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima when cooling systems have failed. But green energy is bringing a new dimension of safety problems to society.
A transition from gasoline and diesel vehicles to electric models is a major part of the green energy revolution. President Joe Biden, other political leaders, and the International Energy Agency call for electric vehicles (EVs) to completely replace internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2050. EVs with high-capacity batteries are new technology that is rapidly gaining market acceptance. Automakers compete to increase EV range by introducing larger and more powerful batteries.
But battery fires may threaten the EV revolution.
Lithium batteries in cell phones and other portable electronic devices are banned from commercial airline baggage compartments because of fire risk. Batteries in electric cars contain graphite, metals, and other materials bathed in flammable electrolytes with thousands of times more energy than your cell phone battery.
Electric cars spontaneously combust. Earlier this year, a father from Elk Grove Illinois was about to pull onto Highway 99 when he felt his Tesla start shaking. He pulled to the side of the road and exited his car, just before it burst into flames. He was unable to save the child car seats from the back of the car and was glad that his children were at home.
This summer, a Florida car owner had her vehicle in for servicing and was given a Mercedes EV as a loaner. The loaner was parked in her garage and not charging when it burst into flames. The flames and smoke caused heavy damage to her home.
BMW, Ford, GM, Hyundai, and Tesla electric cars have all experienced problems with battery fires. In the most visible case, GM recalled all 141,000 Chevrolet Bolts produced between 2016 and 2021. In August, electric truck maker Nikola announced a recall of all 209 of its heavy electric trucks because of battery fires.
In total, the rate of EV fires does not exceed the fire rate for ICE vehicles. But EVs can ignite unexpectedly when charging overnight in the garage or even when just parked in the driveway, locations where gasoline-powered cars typically don’t catch fire.
Battery fires are very hard to extinguish. They can burn for hours while fire departments douse them with water, and even re-ignite after the fire appears to be out. Some fire departments have resorted to lifting the flaming EV and dropping it into a huge tank of water to extinguish the flames.
Grid-scale batteries are being deployed by utilities in Australia, the U.S., and other nations. These are huge batteries, which provide electricity storage to back up wind and solar facilities. When wind and solar systems generate excess electricity, it can be stored in batteries and released when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. But grid-scale batteries also have issues with self-ignition.
Today, grid-scale batteries store only about one millionth of the electricity that the world uses annually, but many of the few batteries that have been deployed already have suffered major fires. Batteries have burst into flames in Arizona, California, New York, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Grid-scale battery fires result from thermal runaway, caused by mechanical damage, poor air conditioning, or overcharging.
What is the current leading cause of accidental fires in New York City? The answer isn’t cooking or smoking. It’s fires caused by e-bike lithium batteries. Batteries on e-bikes spontaneously burst into flames when charging or just sitting idle. After ignition, the batteries burn with a high heat and set fire to storage areas or whole buildings, sometimes killing or injuring residents.
According to the New York City Fire Department, e-bike fires jumped from 44 in 2020 to more than 200 this year. The fires caused 10 deaths and over 200 injuries in the city during the past two years.
Green hydrogen, produced from electrolysis of water, is also proposed as a new fuel for the energy transition. Leaders call for a hydrogen economy to reduce emissions and fight global warming. Hydrogen is touted as a transportation fuel and a replacement for natural gas and coal in heavy industry. More than $280 billion in subsidies have been committed globally to develop green hydrogen.
But hydrogen exists in nature only in compounds. Pure hydrogen is very reactive and takes only a low level of energy in the presence of oxygen to burst into flames. The world’s rush to deploy hydrogen fuel may become a major safety hazard.
In 1937, the airship Hindenburg exploded in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The explosion ended 35 years of efforts to deploy hydrogen airships. More than two dozen airships exploded from 1908 to 1937 from accidental hydrogen fires, killing hundreds of passengers and crew. The world decided hydrogen airships were too hazardous to continue their use.
But green energy advocates now call for a network of hydrogen pipelines, public hydrogen fueling stations for vehicles, and even the use of hydrogen to heat homes. These systems will need to compress hydrogen to 700 atmospheres of pressure, making leaks probable. And unlike natural gas, hydrogen leaks are prone to spontaneous combustion and resultant explosions and fires.
Vice President Kamala Harris recently announced $1 billion in grants for electric school buses. But the number of electric bus fires around the world is growing. God forbid we start seeing spontaneous fires in electric buses full of children.
It’s clear that world leaders are ignoring the growing safety problems of green energy. But these fears are being pushed aside in favor of Climatism, the fear of human-caused global warming.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.