Mark Z. Jacobson, the famed professor at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, and 26 of his colleagues have compiled a report that shows exactly how 139 nations could transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050 without throwing millions of people out of work. In fact, they contend that the changeover would actually spur job growth while dramatically reducing carbon emissions, writes Steve Hanley. Article courtesy of Cleantechnica.com.
The new report is an outgrowth of a similar project from 2015 that laid out the steps all 50 states in the US would need to take in order to transition to 100% renewable energy. Why 139 countries? Because that group is responsible for 99% of all global carbon emissions. The report was published August 23 by Joule, an online resource that focuses on news about renewable energy.
Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there’s some reasonable science that can show it’s possible and that’s what we’re trying to do
Changing conventional wisdom is hard, but it can be done. People laughed at the Wright Brothers and their silly idea that we could fly from place to place. Today, there are more than 100,000 commercial airline flights a day worldwide. Television? Forget it. Smartphones with more computing power than an Apollo mission? Will never happen.
Change happens very slowly, but when it gets started, it builds momentum with amazing speed.
Jacobson’s group developed roadmaps that assess the renewable energy resources available to each country; the number of wind, water, and solar energy generators needed to get to 80% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050; how much land and how many rooftops these power sources would require; and how the proposals for each country would reduce energy demand and cost when compared to a business-as-usual scenario.
Eliminating the use of oil and gas will cut about 13% from the world’s energy budget because mining, transporting, and refining those fuels are all energy-intensive activities
“Both individuals and governments can lead this change. Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there’s some reasonable science that can show it’s possible and that’s what we’re trying to do,” says Jacobson, who is also a member of the board for the Solutions Project, a US-based nonprofit that works to educate the public and policymakers about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. “There are other scenarios. We’re not saying there’s only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”
By the way, due to the progressive and influential work Jacobson has been leading, he is in one camp with Elon Musk — he’s getting trolled by anti-renewable forces on the interwebs and in the flesh. Also see these two articles:
- 100% Clean, Renewable Energy Is Possible, Practical, Logical — Setting The Record Straight
- The Attacks On Cleantech Leaders Have Begun — Expect More
The analytical framework
The researchers examined several aspects of each country’s economy, including its electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industrial, and agriculture/forestry/fishing sectors. Their analysis revealed that those countries with lots of available land will find the transition to renewable energy the easiest. Countries like Singapore, which has little open land and is surrounded by oceans, may need to look to offshore wind energy to meet its goals.
Less international squabbling over access to fossil fuels will definitely be a plus for all concerned
Moving away from fossil fuels will bring with it ancillary benefits. For example, eliminating the use of oil and gas will cut about 13% from the world’s energy budget because mining, transporting, and refining those fuels are all energy-intensive activities. The greater efficiency of electric motors versus internal combustion engines could reduce global energy demand by another 23%.
Some benefits are hard to quantify, but less international squabbling over access to fossil fuels will definitely be a plus for all concerned. The authors also suggest that making the transition from fossils fuels to renewables will result in a net gain of 24 million employment opportunities worldwide.
“Aside from eliminating emissions and avoiding 1.5º C global warming and beginning the process of scrubbing carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, transitioning eliminates 4 to 7 million air pollution deaths each year and creates over 24 million long-term, full time jobs by these plans,” Jacobson says. “What’s different between this study and other studies that have proposed solutions is that we’re not just trying to examine the climate benefits of reducing carbon but also the air pollution benefits, jobs benefits, and cost benefits.”
Responding to critics
Critics of Jacobson’s work have pointed out that his recommendations ignore the potential of nuclear power, as well as so-called clean coal and biofuels. Jacobson responds that nuclear plants take 15 to 20 years to design and build and bring with them “robust evidence” of a risk of weapons proliferation risk, meltdown risk, and waste management risks, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Clean coal has been condemned recently as a myth, and the production of biofuels creates 50 times as much carbon pollution as renewables, according to the report.
Jacobson and his colleagues highlight the inherent efficiency advantage of electric motors compared to internal combustion engines as the foundation of their recommendations. By their calculations, ICEs are less than 7% efficient by the time the costs of finding and extracting fossil fuels, transporting them, distributing them, and burning them are totaled and compared to the total amount of work produced.
They go on to advocate for underground heat storage for homes and businesses, pointing to Denmark, where such technology is common. They also presume that electric airplanes will become commonplace in the future as more and more companies invest in that technology.
So how much is all this going to cost? Trillions. But Jacobson and his colleagues say keeping the existing fossil-based economy will cost 4 times as much, particularly when the economic value of better health and longer lifetimes is factored in. Over time, those benefits will more than equal the initial investment needed to go 100% renewable. In the final analysis, how do you put a price on preserving a world that is fit for human habitation?
An actual plan as opposed to political rhetoric or dogma
In a preview of the report, Mark Dyson of the Rocky Mountain Institute writes, “This paper helps push forward a conversation within and between the scientific, policy, and business communities about how to envision and plan for a decarbonized economy. The scientific community’s growing body of work on global low carbon energy transition pathways provides robust evidence that such a transition can be accomplished, and a growing understanding of the specific levers that need to be pulled to do so. Jacobson et al.’s present study provides sharper focus on one scenario, and refines a set of priorities for near-term action to enable it.”
In other words, an actual plan as opposed to political rhetoric or dogma. Combined with the suggestions made by the authors of the new book Drawdown, the Jacobson report marks the end of hand wringing and the beginning of actual strategies to address the most serious existential threat humanity has faced since The Flood.
This article was first published by Cleantechnica.com and is republished here with permission.
Steve Hanley writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter. His website: https://myrhodetrips.com/
S. Herb says
I have now spent several evenings reading the Jacobson group’s latest paper and poring over the latest version of the spreadsheet available on their website, with the goal of understanding their plan for Germany since I have some idea of the situation here. My conclusion is that they are doing very useful work, but are still over-advertising the completeness of their results. First, some GW numbers for their preferred ‘WWS’ scenario, converted from their percentage contribution numbers:
Avg Elect. Use: 226 GW (now perhaps 63 GW)
Onshore Wind 125 GW (now ~ 40)
Offshore Wind 124 GW (now ~ 5)
Total Solar ~690 GW (now ~ 45) , 528 GW is utility solar
CSP ~ 0 GW
Hydroelectric 4.5 GW (now 4.5)
The number for solar looks very large but may be realistic in a world with ever-decreasing solar prices. What disturbs me is the lack of attention to storage. Some provision for heat storage is made with 108 GW of solar thermal used together with geo-stores and heat pumps. Storage for electrical generation in the study is not listed per country but stated to come from CSP, hydro, and batteries as appropriate (no bioenergy, and electrolytic H2 is used only for transportation). Batteries and the limited hydro will certainly cover some short-term storage needs, but have nothing to say for days of minimal wind and sun, and the occasional two week Dunkelflaute (‘dark doldrums’) in the depths of winter. It looks to me that they are being rather careless here.
Bob Wallace says
How much is Germany willing to be dependent on other European countries for a part of its electricity supply? If Germany is going to have a stand-alone grid as opposed to being part of a unified European grid then a lot more storage (or dispatchable generation) would be needed.
However if Germany would be willing to trade offshore to a country with a lot of dispatchable hydro then hydro could be held back when the wind was blowing and hydro turned on when the wind dies down. Net: both countries get 100% renewable and Germany saves money over buying storage.
Someone has probably done a 100% energy model for Europe using actual wind, solar and demand data. That would show how often, long, and deep the wind famines might really be. And from that it would be possible to determine how much dispatchable hydro was needed and if it can be found.
By the time you add in dispatchable loads like EVs and allow for some overbuilding you may find the need for storage is rather modest.
S. Herb says
Jacobson’s single country WWS numbers are perhaps something like worst case existence proofs (which is of course useful) and I am somewhat annoyed that they are advertised as great solutions. There are already large-scale imports and exports, and the EU is trying to strengthen the interconnections. Norway has or will soon have connections for its hydropower to Denmark, England, and Germany, and there are ideas for converting more of it to pumped hydro. This all helps, but for wind and sun the Northern European countries are all, more or less, in the same weather system. Norwegian hydro can fill in some holes, but not serve as a ‘baseload’ power source for all these countries for days or weeks. So there is a choice between really large scale storage (natural gas as now, or something greener) and massive interconnections to the Balkans and North Africa, or some combination thereof. Over-dependence on intercontinental lines seems to me a bad idea from resilience considerations.
Bob Wallace says
Is your conclusion based on data or assumptions?
Has someone actually taken a few years of demand and solar/wind/hydro data and calculated the amount of storage and/or dispatchable generation (natural gas or biofuel) that would be needed to keep the light on in Europe?
S. Herb says
A high quality time-sliced optimization model has been done for Germany in 2050 (Fraunhofer ISE, pubs in German). An 80% reduction in CO2 was achieved with renewables and rather modest residual natural gas generation and modest storage. 95% was harder. I believe that work is underway for a Europe-wide study but you can imagine that combining weather and energy data and projections for 20 or 30 countries is quite a job, and there are questions of who to include (Ukraine?,Turkey?) and what assumptions to make for long-distance transmission capacity. Bottom line: my hard-data knowledge may be too German-centric and so far as I know there is not a careful Europe-wide time-slice model result. But the winter energy deficit is real; Rome is at the latitude of Chicago, and Amsterdam of Saskatoon.
Bob Wallace says
If 80% seems reasonably within reach then we probably should be working hard for the 80% and not be too concerned with the last 20%. Technology is evolving rapidly and costs are decreasing rapidly. Predictions made with today’s numbers will probably be worthless in five years.
This is the case with renewable grid studies in the US. The 2012 NREL study that found an 80% renewable grid was about as high as we could go without raising the cost of electricity. But in 2012 utility solar had an installed cost of about $2.50/watt. First of this year it was $0.99/watt and still falling.
Apparently storage costs are dropping as fast as solar has dropped. EV batteries have gone from $1,000/kWh to under $150/kWh in a short number of years.
Rome may be at the latitude of Chicago but how does Rome’s solar insolation compare to Chicago’s? How sunny is it in Spain and Portugal? Turkey? Know of any solar insolation tables for different parts of Europe by month?