The Impact of Energy Illiteracy and Overhyped Sustainability Efforts on Cost

What Engineers and Journalists Can Learn from Each Other in Energy Transition and Industrial Sustainability Challenges

In the realm of energy transition and industrial sustainability, engineers and journalists often struggle to communicate effectively. They have different ways of framing issues and asking questions, leading to a disconnect between the two professions. However, by raising their standards and improving their ability to communicate, both engineers and journalists can contribute to a more meaningful and productive exchange of ideas.

One of the challenges is the narrow framing of issues. When issues are narrowly defined, the right questions are often overlooked. This puts everyone at a disadvantage and makes it difficult to address problems effectively. Narrow framing is even more problematic than outright falsehoods because it limits the scope of the conversation and prevents a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.

The inability of engineers and journalists to communicate effectively stems from a shared trait: a focus on accuracy and detail. Engineers may lose their audience by delving too deeply into technicalities, while journalists may overlook important nuances in favor of creating a captivating narrative. This disparity in communication styles can hinder progress in solving complex challenges.

It is essential for analysts to analyze and question important topics related to energy transition and industrial sustainability. By doing so, they can provide valuable insights to decision-makers and stakeholders in various sectors, including manufacturing, utilities, transportation, and more. On the other hand, narrow-focused reporting and the spreading of false claims can lead to risky strategic landscapes for industry leaders, policymakers, and investors. This ultimately stifles creativity and healthy competition.

Recent reporting has shed light on various topics, such as the electric energy usage of hyperscalers’ infrastructure for AI and cloud computing, the GHG impacts of AI solutions like Bloom, wind turbine cement foundations, and challenges associated with carbon capture and sequestration. However, these reports often lack the necessary context and comparisons to understand the true impact of these issues.

For example, an article reported that the electricity costs associated with training the Chat GPT-3 model exceeded $100,000,000. In reality, the energy usage was much lower, equating to $102,960. Additionally, these reports often fail to consider the energy efficiency and broader sustainability efforts of hyperscalers, which can help reduce their customers’ overall energy footprint.

Another study claimed that Bloom’s AI solution emitted 25 times more carbon than a single air traveler on a one-way trip from New York to San Francisco. However, comparing it to the carbon emissions of a fully loaded airplane on the same trip provides a clearer perspective. These misleading comparisons only serve to distort the true environmental impact.

Similarly, the carbon footprint of wind turbine cement foundations is often criticized without considering the higher tonnage per MW of generating capacity associated with other power plants, such as nuclear. Lastly, when journalists describe the CO2 reduction goal of carbon capture and sequestration facilities, they often use misleading analogies, undermining the scale and potential impact of such initiatives.

To address these challenges, it is crucial to raise the standard of energy and sustainability literacy. Just as nutritional labeling of food products improved consumer awareness, a similar educational effort is required for energy and sustainability topics. This will take time and effort, but it is necessary for meaningful comparisons and informed decision-making.

Ultimately, the ability to make accurate lifecycle cost and environmental impact comparisons is what truly matters. It goes beyond blanket critiques of individual solutions and requires a holistic understanding of the alternatives involved. By adhering to this standard, engineers and journalists can collaborate and contribute to a more productive and efficient discourse.

In conclusion, engineers and journalists can learn from each other in the context of energy transition and industrial sustainability challenges. By raising the standard of communication and improving energy literacy, they can bridge the gap between technical accuracy and compelling storytelling. This will benefit decision-makers, stakeholders, and the global economy as a whole.

Editor Notes

It is evident that effective communication between engineers and journalists is crucial for addressing energy transition and sustainability challenges. By understanding each other’s perspectives and enhancing their ability to communicate, these professionals can contribute to a more productive and impactful discourse. The effort to raise the standard of energy and sustainability literacy is essential for informed decision-making and a sustainable future.

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