Researchers have detailed the implausible assumptions and many flaws in the Jacobson proposal to provide 100% of the USA’s power with wind, water and solar. Jacobson et al. (2015) consider whether the future primary energy sources for the United States could be narrowed to almost exclusively wind, solar, and hydroelectric power and suggest that this can be done at “low-cost” in a way that supplies all power with a probability of loss of load “that exceeds electric-utility-industry standards for reliability”. The analysis involves errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions. Their study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses that point to the benefits of considering a broad portfolio of energy system options. A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system.
* cost of capital assumed to be 33-50% of the historical costs, this is both unrealistic and biased for wind and solar power
* emissions for nuclear power include fossil fuel used during construction and emissions from assumed nuclear wars
* assumes small scale technology can be scaled up thousands of times without delay
* assumed permitting problems and other issues with wind farms all vanish
Massive lies, errors and fabrications to make this up
A number of analyses, meta-analyses, and assessments, including those performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the International Energy Agency, have concluded that deployment of a diverse portfolio of clean energy technologies makes a transition to a low-carbon-emission energy system both more feasible and less costly than other pathways. In contrast, Jacobson et al argue that it is feasible to provide “low-cost solutions to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of WWS [wind, water and solar power] across all energy sectors in the continental United States between 2050 and 2055”, with only electricity and hydrogen as energy carriers. Researchers evaluate the Jacobson study and find significant shortcomings in the analysis. In particular, they point out that this work used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions. Policy makers should treat with caution any visions of a rapid, reliable, and low-cost transition to entire energy systems that relies almost exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.
A number of studies, including a study by one of us, have concluded that an 80% decarbonization of the US electric grid could be achieved at reasonable cost. The high level of decarbonization is facilitated by an optimally configured continental high-voltage transmission network. There seems to be some consensus that substantial amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be avoided with widespread deployment of solar and wind electric generation technologies along with supporting infrastructure.
Furthermore, it is not in question that it would be theoretically possible to build a reliable energy system excluding all bioenergy, nuclear energy, and fossil fuel sources. Given unlimited resources to build variable energy production facilities, while expanding the transmission grid and accompanying energy storage capacity enormously, one would eventually be able to meet any conceivable load. However, in developing a strategy to effectively mitigate global energy-related CO2 emissions, it is critical that the scope of the challenge to achieve this in the real world is accurately defined and clearly communicated.
Wind and solar are variable energy sources, and some way must be found to address the issue of how to provide energy if their immediate output cannot continuously meet instantaneous demand. The main options are to
(i) curtail load (i.e., modify or fail to satisfy demand) at times when energy is not available,
(ii) deploy very large amounts of energy storage, or
(iii) provide supplemental energy sources that can be dispatched when needed.
It is not yet clear how much it is possible to curtail loads, especially over long durations, without incurring large economic costs. There are no electric storage systems available today that can affordably and dependably store the vast amounts of energy needed over weeks to reliably satisfy demand using expanded wind and solar power generation alone. These facts have led many US and global energy system analyses to recognize the importance of a broad portfolio of electricity generation technologies, including sources that can be dispatched when needed.
Relying on 100% wind, solar, and hydroelectric power could make climate mitigation more difficult and more expensive than it needs to be. For example, the analyses by Jacobson et al. exclude from consideration several commercially available technologies, such as nuclear and bioenergy, that could potentially contribute to decarbonization of the global energy system, while also helping assure high levels of reliability in the power grid.
Both hydroelectric power and flexible load have been modeled in erroneous ways and that these errors alone invalidate the study and its results. The study of 100% wind, solar, and hydroelectric power systems extrapolates from a few small-scale installations of relatively immature energy storage technologies to assume ubiquitous adoption of high-temperature PCMs for storage at concentrating solar power plants; UTES for heating, cooling, and refrigeration for almost every building in the United States; and widespread use of hydrogen to fuel airplanes, rail, shipping, and most energy-intensive industrial processes.
Jacobson claim to have shown that their proposed system would be low cost and that there are no economic barriers to the implementation of their vision. However, the modeling errors described above, the speculative nature of the terawatt-scale storage technologies envisioned, the theoretical nature of the solutions proposed to handle critical stability aspects of the system, and a number of unsupported assumptions, including a cost of capital that is one-third to one-half lower than that used in practice in the real world, undermine that claim.
Jacobson boosted the lifecycle emission of nuclear energy by including the emissions of the background fossil-based power system during an assumed planning and construction period for up to 19 y per nuclear plant. Jacobson also added to these emissions, the effects of a nuclear war, which is assumed to periodically reoccur on a 30-y cycle, are included in the analysis of emissions and mortality of civilian nuclear power. In contrast, not only does wind power not get the same penalties they assume that permitting problems go away for wind. Historically there have beenvery few offshore wind facilities been permitted in US territorial waters. The 100% wind, solar, and hydroelectric power system envisions more than 150,000 5-MW turbines permitted and built offshore without delays.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.