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100% Renewable Energy Worldwide is Possible by 2030
October 8, 2013 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Stanford University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mark Z Jacobson, claims that worldwide re-powering with Wind, Water, and Solar (WWS) energy, rather than continuing the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power, would save millions of lives per year from pollution, help avert disasters related to global warming, and increase worldwide economic, social, and political stability. He has a plan to achieve this goal.

2009 Scientific American article (pdf) here.

More articles and dozens of links here.
posted by Cookiebastard (32 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
He is scheduled to appear on Late Show With David Letterman on Oct. 9.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:21 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure this will get bad-mouthed and sent to the realm of "pipe dream" by those who would profit from this not being so. But having seen what solar can do for me, even in Seattle, I don't doubt this for a second. Data point: went from a $41 bill to a $35 credit last bill period. We shall see how we fare during the rainy winter months.

More incentives to defray the upfront cost of the panels would be a good thing.

GO SOLAR!
posted by Windopaene at 9:26 AM on October 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


But in Texas, this will cause all the wind to be used up!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:33 AM on October 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm convinced it's possible. The catch will be that, according to this simulation at least, the cheapest answer is to build three times the wind & solar generation capacity so that at least some is generating when you need it.

As a behavioral / energy engineer I'm excited about a future with wildly varying electricity prices. It's going to reward manufacturers that can flexibly start and stop their consumption. Great design and operations opportunity to substitute cleverness for carbon.
posted by anthill at 9:35 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


It will never fly in Washington. Th e Republicans think wind is a finite resource.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:40 AM on October 8, 2013


CheeseDigestsAll: "It will never fly in Washington. Th e Republicans think wind is a finite resource."

Not in DC it ain't.

Obvious joke is obvious.
posted by symbioid at 9:44 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not in DC it ain't.

Obvious joke is obvious.


That's unlimited biomass you're thinking of.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:50 AM on October 8, 2013


That's unlimited biomass you're thinking of.

Well, the heat from the decaying mass of the yammering windbags might be sufficient to generate a stinky swell of air that could power something.

Perhaps one of those giant iPads at Fox News.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:57 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Millions of people die every year from pollution??
posted by GrooveJedi at 10:07 AM on October 8, 2013


Millions of people die every year from pollution??

I've told you a million times! Never exaggerate!
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:20 AM on October 8, 2013






I'm excited to read all of this in further detail, there's a lot to consume here. Impressed just skimming the Scientific American at the level of due diligence put into all aspects of the topic.

It's also nice to see something focused and positive in the energy/global climate change world full of deniers, doom-and-gloomers, and people that are so at a loss all they can do is snark. Eventually we have to go beyond plans and truly tip the scales of public opinion toward action, but it has to start with smart people like this leading the way forward.

Minor nit, we can never go 100% with renewable energy if we still have people flying around the world on planes. Wind/Water/Sun energy isn't going to help there. Nuclear in theory could replace fossil fuels in planes, but that's a different can of worms than the topic here.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:46 AM on October 8, 2013


We're working on the biofuel. Even if it isn't carbon neutral, it's still going to be better than fossil fuels. It's just going to take cost-efficient cellulosic conversion to glucose (which you can then make in to ethanol or butanol or whatever) to be even remotely plausible and the technology simply isn't there yet.

At least that's the theory that keeps me in pipette tips.
posted by maryr at 11:05 AM on October 8, 2013


Wind/Water/Sun energy isn't going to help there.

We could... if we were all using airships again.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:16 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or so they would have you believe.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:31 AM on October 8, 2013


Pretty sure this will get bad-mouthed and sent to the realm of "pipe dream" by those who would profit from this not being so.

But then would it not also be promoted as THE GREATEST THING EVER by those who would profit from pipe dream technologies? It would be a mistake to confuse "renewable" with "non-profit" for if renewable energy is not profitable, it has no future.
posted by three blind mice at 11:34 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regarding aviation, check out the second paragraph of section A.2.7 on page 12 of this report (pdf):

"For aviation we assume that hydrogen is liquefied and burned in jet engines..."
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:17 PM on October 8, 2013


"For aviation we assume that hydrogen is liquefied and burned in jet engines..."

Hell of an assumption. Cryogens as a class are a pain to handle, worse, the tanks have to be at least twice the weight, because they need to be dewars to keep the fuel from boiling off, you need much more complicated fueling systems, and if your tanks are warm, you're going to boil off the first few hundred gallons getting the tanks cold enough to actually hold liquid.

Hydrogen's energy density by volume is crap as well, because LH2's density is so low*. The reason rockets use LH2 is that with LOX, you can get high specific impulse (or at least, high for chemical rockets.) The reason that a lot of rocket stages still use RP1, which is basically a cleaner form of Jet-A, is that RP1 is much more dense, so the tanks are much smaller, and thus the total size of the rocket is smaller -- which is a huge deal in the lower atmosphere when you have to worry about drag as you're trying to get up to orbital velocities.

So, basically, to store the same energy, you'll need vastly more tank volume, and those tanks will all need to be dewars to keep the hydrogen liquid, so they'll be much heavier, and, well, it isn't going to carry much besides fuel.

You also have all the other dangers of a cryogen. Things freeze. It likes to freeze the water out of the air. Worse, because LH2 boils at 20K, it likes to liquify the oxygen and nitrogen out of the atmosphere. Pools of LN2 are annoying, until they freeze water and make things heavy. Pools of LOX are a real hazard. LH2 leaks turn to gas, and if that's captured in the airplane cabin, you end up dying of asphyxia with no real warning, since it's the buildup of CO2 in your bloodstream that triggers the gasping-for-air reflexes, not the lack of oxygen.

LH2 is just a very, very dicey fuel. It also will take a lot of energy to get the hydrogen and liquify it. I also wonder about transport -- you can't really use pipelines over long distances.

Now, it's not impossible to fly a jet on LH2. The Soviets did it -- they build a modified Tupolev 154, called the Tu-155, which was used as a test bed. It flew with both LNG and LH2. The back half of the cabin was all fuel tankerage for the cryogen. It could use both the cryogen and normal fuel. The range on LNG was about 60% of Jet A, and I can't find any details on what the range on LH2 is. I'm also seeing conflicting details on if all three engines ran on the cryogen, or only one of them with the other two remaining on normal fuel.



* LH2: 8.5MJ/L. Jet-A: 36MJ/L. So, you need 4.2 times the volume of LH2 as you would Jet A. This would mass a little over a fifth that the Jet-A would, because LH2's energy per kilogram is 4.5x that of Jet-A. Unfortunately for LH2, that mass savings is pretty much overwhelmed by the mass needed for cryogen tanks with over four times the volume of the current Jet-A tanks.

Mass is important in flight (and critical in spaceflight) but volume is important as well -- arguably even more important in atmospheric flight where you're always dealing with air drag.
posted by eriko at 12:55 PM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


It won't be pure hydrogen. We'll stumble upon the right hydride alloy and things will go on exactly like before with combustion engines.
posted by Talez at 2:03 PM on October 8, 2013


Minor nit, we can never go 100% with renewable energy if we still have people flying around the world on planes.

Even if we didn't come up with a good alternative, reducing fossil fuel use to air/space craft would be an incredibly dramatic reduction. From some quick searching it looks like ~5% of oil is used for jet aircraft worldwide. So a 95% reduction in oil usage and 100% reduction in coal & natural gas, well thats pretty good.

(And I do think we could eventually find something to replace it, but it doesn't seem like a priority to me since its almost certainly going to be easier to replace electricity generation, and move cars to electricity, taking care of most of the industrial/residential/transportation needs without having to solve the fuel density problem)
posted by wildcrdj at 2:05 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Millions of people die every year from pollution??"

Yes. In addition to indirect deaths caused by lifetime exposure to air pollution in the developed world, many people in the developing world die from asthma and respiratory infections due to burning biomass. They burn wood, brush, dung or whatever can be gathered from the local neighborhood to cook their food and stay warm, because it's the only fuel available. This leads to permanently smoky houses and a lifetime of coughing. Then there's all the new pollution that comes from the almost completely unregulated industrial development of the last twenty-five years, which is just beginning to make itself felt through public health statistics.

Switching to an economy built on renewable energy would save lives immediately, all over the world.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:50 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, maybe this time it will work.

How to balance this "100% Renewable Energy" business with "climate change could wipe out humans in 20 years" business???
posted by Ralph at 8:32 PM on October 8, 2013


>> people flying around the world on planes

> We're working on the biofuel. Even if it isn't carbon neutral


Why isn't it? If the carbon released by burning vegetable oil or alcohol all came from plants fixing it from the atmosphere, isn't that neutral?
posted by morganw at 11:28 PM on October 8, 2013


I think it's no question that it's doable. I would expect even best case however, that 10% fossil fuels will remain long term for special applications. there are really two keys to renewable takeover:

1) infant industry subsidies. remember these words. use them when talking to republicans and so-called pragmatic skeptics. Germany used an infant industry subsidy in the form of the EEG to great success. 15%-20% is achievable with that alone. the subsidy ensures that anyone who builds renewable energy power plants ( especially small ones ) will be guaranteed to profit from their investment. as the market matures, prices for installation come down. you reduce the subsidy every year, or even month, to encourage early and fast adoption. within ten years, no more subidy, just a mature renewables sector and lots of renewable energy in your grid.

2) smart meters. yes you need them. you can not go above 20% renewable energy without a digital meter communicating your consumption in real time to the grid operator. they will use this information to encourage people to use more or less energy, depending on the situation. they might charge or discharge central batteries (or fleets of electric taxis or carshares) or they might turn off some solar panels and wind turbines to avoid burning out the cables during overproduction. but they need that real time info!
posted by molecicco at 12:18 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...If the carbon released by burning vegetable oil or alcohol all came from plants fixing it from the atmosphere, isn't that neutral?"

Yes, but to replace gasoline you need a vast amount of sugarcane, corn, or whatever crop, since only part of the plants can be used to derive energy. And the only reliable way to achieve that kind of industrial scale agriculture is through the use of fertilizers that are derived from fossil fuels. And you also need fossil fueled vehicles to plow, till and harvest the crops. There's some talk of fermenting grasses into ethanol or using special algae in bioreactors, but that's very experimental.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:39 AM on October 9, 2013


Right, except that you don't need fossil fuels for plowing, tilling or harvesting, as all that work can be done using electricity from renewable sources. The only place where I see a real need for liquid fuels is for long distance hauls: airplanes and transport trucks. A good chunk of their feedstock could come from plants. For personal vehicles, I see electric vehicles making big gains in the years to come.
posted by molecicco at 2:17 AM on October 9, 2013


Most of the long-term scenarios for climate change and/or renewable energy in the UK have been predicting big shifts to electricity for transport (through electric vehicles) and heating (heat pumps and storage) as with mo's expectations.

While I think the projections given by Jacobson are commendable I think its a bit generous to call it a plan. The consideration of policy instruments to get from here to there are extremely thin and without them its just wishful thinking not really a road map to a carbon free future.
posted by biffa at 3:40 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


So we let the policy-making process dictate what our policies can be now? If this is a technically, practically workable plan, but the policy making process is too broken for us to be able to make it work, then that's a problem with our policy making process. In the past, we've been able to accomplish big things that many would now dismiss as impossible (like going to the moon, building the national infrastructure, etc.) Our policy making process shouldn't be so broken it forces us to reject good ideas for the future that are undoubtedly in the public interest solely in deference to legacy economic interests. If the plan is workable, the plan is workable. Any political problems that prohibit successfully implementing an otherwise technically workable and desirable plan represents a failure of our political system, not a deficiency in the plan.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:59 AM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, but to replace gasoline you need a vast amount of sugarcane, corn, or whatever crop, since only part of the plants can be used to derive energy.

Which is why energy and cost efficient cellulosic ethanol, which would use the entire plant, could be a game changer. And while the use of land, water, and fertilizers are unavoidable to some extent, bioreactors are generally rather energy intensive as well and require feedstocks, gasses, and probably something to keep the tank from filling up with whatever else likes to grow under those conditions (yeast seems a good guess). The big advantage to growing crops for energy feestock is that your energy source is pure solar power.
posted by maryr at 7:56 AM on October 9, 2013


I said policy instruments not policy making. There are effectively two elements of policy, the setting of goals but then the practical elements which aim to achieve those goals, ie the policy instruments. Somewhere in the middle will be legislation to try to convert the goals into applicable policy. Its fairly easy to lay out a possible policy goal, the hard part is getting there from here. The constraints of policy stems from what is possible within the application of best practice policy instruments. This is finanical to a very significant degree but other factors are also significant. To give one example, even if financial support is substantial there will still be constraints on how rapidly a system can ramp up large amounts of new technology. This might include manufacturing sufficient capacity in a particular timeframe or how to drive network capacity to deal with the kind of volumes that would be required for the US to be 100% RE by 2030 but might also include consideration of social factors such as whether there might be a negative reaction to large volumes of wind or other RE technologies which would slow deployment.
posted by biffa at 3:39 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]




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