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A Plan for 100% Energy from Wind, Water, and Solar by 2050

Posted on 27 March 2011 by dana1981

We recently examined how Australia can meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020, and the Ecofys plan to meet nearly 100% of global energy needs with renewable sources by 2050.  Here we will look at another similar, but perhaps even more ambitious plan.

Stanford's Mark Jacobson and UC Davis' Mark Delucchi (J&D) recently published a study in the journal Energy Policy examining the possibility of meeting all global energy needs with wind, water, and solar (WWS) power.  They find that it would be plausible to produce all new energy from WWS in 2030, and replace all pre-existing energy with WWS by 2050. 

In Part I of their study, J&D examine the technologies, energy resources, infrastructure, and materials necessary to provide all energy from WWS sources.  They use the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates of global power consumption.  The EIA projects that by 2030, global power demand will increase to 17 trillion watts from the current consumption of 12.5 trillion watts, or an increase of about 36%.  This is the global energy demand that the J&D plan must meet by 2030.  J&D describe how they chose WWS technologies in their study:

"we consider only options that have been demonstrated in at least pilot projects and that can be scaled up as part of a global energy system without further major technology development.  We avoid options that require substantial further technological development and that will not be ready to begin the scale-up process for several decades."

"In order to ensure that our energy system remains clean even with large increases in population and economic activity in the long run, we consider only those technologies that have essentially zero emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants per unit of output over the whole ‘‘lifecycle’’ of the system.  Similarly, we consider only those technologies that have low impacts on wildlife, water pollution, and land, do not have significant waste-disposal or terrorism risks associated with them, and are based on primary resources that are indefinitely renewable or recyclable."

J&D note that these criteria exclude nuclear power from their study for two primary reasons.  Firstly, expansion of nuclear power to additional countries also increases the number of nations which are able to obtain enriched uranium for potential nuclear weapons.  Secondly, nuclear energy results in 9–25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, due to the mining, refinement, and transportation of nuclear fuel; the much longer time involved in building a nuclear facility (approximately 4 times longer than WWS facilities); and larger building footprint.  Additionally, the long planning-to-operation times for new nuclear power plants (11 to 19 years) make it an infeasible technology to rely on for a significant amount of new energy production by 2030.

For auto transportation, J&D propose a combination of battery electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell cars, and battery-hydrogen hybrids.  For ships, they propose the use of hybrid hydrogen fuel cell-battery systems, and for aircraft, liquefied hydrogen combustion.  The hydrogen fuel is produced through electrolysis using WWS energy.  J&D note that electric cars are 5 times more efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles, so less energy is needed to fuel them.

For building water and air heating and cooling, J&D propose using air-and ground-source heat-pump water and air heaters and electric resistance water and air heaters.  These technologies are in existence today.

In terms of electricity generation, J&D find that the available supply could more than meet the global demand.

"Wind in developable locations can power the world about 3–5 times over and solar, about 15–20 times over."

J&D find that water will be a relatively small contribution to overall energy production, since wave power is only practical near coastlines, and most areas suitable for hydroelectric power generation are already in use.  Overall in 2030, J&D envision 50% of global power demand will be met by wind, 20% by concentrated solar thermal power, 14% by solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants, 6% by solar PV on rooftops, 4% each by geothermal and hydroelectric, and 1% each from waves and tides.  This will require a major construction effort – nearly 4 million 5-megawatt wind turbines, and nearly 90,000 300-megawatt solar PV plus thermal power plants, for example.  J&D note that we have all of the necessary resources and materials to meet these construction goals.

J&D also note that by transitioning to more efficient technologies (for example, battery electric vehicles over the internal combustion engine, electric heat pumps for homes, and solar thermal energy with storage to provide baseload power rather than fossil fuels and nuclear) we can actually reduce global power production by 30% compared to business-as-usual.  Even though global energy demand is the same in either case, effectively we will need to produce less energy because less is wasted through inefficient fossil fuel burning. 

In Part II of the study, J&D examine the variability of WWS energy, and the costs of their proposal.  On the positive side, J&D note that WWS technologies suffer less downtime than traditional power sources.  For example, the average US coal power plant was down 12.5% of the time for maintenance between 2000 and 2004, while wind turbines have a downtime of 0 to 5%, and commercial solar in the ballpark of 1%.  The downside is that sunlight and windspeed aren't very reliable.  J&D offer 7 suggestions for solving this problem:

  1. Interconnect the grid so that areas can be supplied with a mix of wind, solar, and water energy (often when the sun isn't shining, the wind is blowing, and water power is consistently available)
  2. Use a consistent source, like hydroelectric or geothermal, to fill the solar and wind gaps
  3. Create a smart grid to use energy most efficiently
  4. Use energy storage technologies
  5. Build more WWS than needed, so that there's still supply when wind and sunlight are low
  6. Use electric vehicle batteries as a storage medium
  7. Utilize weather forecasts to anticipate energy demands

J&D envision that a combination of most of these strategies will be used to ensure that there is always enough energy production to meet local and global demands.

As for costs, J&D project that when accounting for the costs associated with air pollution and climate change, all the WWS technologies they consider will be cheaper than conventional energy sources (including coal) by 2020 or 2030, and in fact onshore wind is already cheaper.  U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently agreed with this assessment.

To accomplish this major conversion to WWS energy, J&D note that it will require that governments implement policies to mobilize infrastructure changes more rapidly than would occur if development were left mainly to the free market, but that we have all the manpower, materials, technology, and resources necessary to make it happen.

"With sensible broad-based policies and social changes, it may be possible to convert 25% of the current energy system to WWS in 10–15 years and 85% in 20–30 years, and 100% by 2050"

As with the Ecofys plan, we are given a roadmap to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables in a timely fashion.  Again the question remains whether we have the will to make it happen.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 83:

  1. Thanks Dana. As we look forwards, here's a nostalgic thought. I haven't even thought about the numbers, but the economics of large sail powered (or at least assisted) cargo vessels might be viable and the technology well proven? Now that we have satellite technology to plot the best course to catch the optimum winds...
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  2. Good news: most of these studies greatly under-predict what can be done with solar thermal space heating. The industry "wisdom" is that you can get 40-50% with solar thermal. I have installed space heating systems in a dozen homes that are much closer to 75%. And with smarter controls, I believe I can get north of 80%.

    So various combinations of solar thermal and ground source heat pumps work everywhere.

    A caution with heat pumps - they reduce heating costs by ~50% - but they don't reduce carbon emissions with the current mix of fuels to create electricity.

    Given the multi-decade struggle we are in to ramp up electricity production from electricity, it is a very good move, in a significant space heating climate, to use solar thermal to minimize the load and use a heat pump, or even burning natural gas, as the final backup.

    That is much preferable to adding additional load to the electric grid, which is currently coal dominated, and in the future will always be hard pressed to get enough renewable sources on line. Don't add to that load with space heating.

    {Also note that a window upgrade (to R-5 or higher) increases comfort and decreases energy required to heat/cool the house.
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  3. Great series of posts about these comprehensive studies on the transition to renewables.

    Thanks and keep it coming.
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  4. Jacobson's prior work on the adverse health effects of urban CO2 domes make this plan that much more urgent.

    Jacobson's study is the first to look at the health impacts of carbon dioxide domes over cities and his results are relevant to future air pollution regulations. Current regulations do not address the local impacts of local carbon dioxide emissions. ...
    "There has been no control of carbon dioxide because it has always been thought that CO2 is a global problem, that it is only its global impacts that might feed back to air pollution," Jacobson said.
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  5. actually thoughtfull - regarding heat pump carbon emissions, I suppose a key to this plan is that we're also transitioning toward renewables in the power grid at the same time we're increasing the use of heat pumps.
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  6. What would have happened if hypothetically moral and intelligent leaders after 9/11 had invested a trillion dollars or so into renewable energy instead of wasting money on stupid wars?
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  7. Dana1981 - it is true that a heat pump run from renewable electricity sources is a great way to solve the issue of heat (and even more elegantly - build an envelope that doesn't need to be heated/cooled), and that is the reason for the paradoxical argument that using more electricity is better. But solar thermal for heat is an important technology that takes a notable portion of the load off of electricity and puts it in locally managed systems. It is also currently 4-5 times more efficient than making electricity from renewable resources.

    It is often overlooked because it isn't drop dead simple like plugging in some PV panels (with respect to the PV installers out there).

    And while we must stay focused on the future, and ending carbon emissions, we also have to stay in touch with reality, and the reality is that switching from gas to coal-fired electricity for a heat pump is a net INCREASE in carbon emissions.

    Sure, eventually (bounded by the end of fossil fuels) it will be powered by renewables. But even the study you are high-lighting for us doesn't see even new power coming from renewables (only) until 2030 - there is low hanging fruit here to switch to solar thermal for process heat, space heating, and even space cooling (absorption chiller run by a high temp solar thermal collector system (high temp being 180F-212F)).

    Solar thermal is the easy "S" of WWS, and meets all the requirements of the study's authors. I myself was very surprised to learn that carbon emission went up with the use of a ground source heat pump (using national average mix of fuels to create the electricity). It does sound good on paper, as it is much more efficient than compressor-cooling, which is done almost entirely with electricity. And it just makes sense to use the same great technology for heat (this is where it fails). Solar heating will be the more efficient method for the foreseeable future.

    And of course if you live in the desert southwest, you can create your cooling through evaporation, so long as we have water.

    If you accept that we are using more electricity than we can currently produce via renewables (and this will be the case for a while), and you understand that solar thermal has a (small to medium) per BTU edge over renewable methods of creating electricity (including wind) - then it just follows that you create heat from solar thermal first, then create heat from other methods (waste industrial, geothermal, wind, solar thermal (concentrating), wave, PV (probably in that order)).
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  8. Peter Hogarth. Sail for cargo vessels?

    Not very likely - but kites could very easily develop to help the proposed "hybrid hydrogen fuelcell-battery systems" the authors are keen on for shipping.
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  9. Dana:
    This is a terrific post. It is good to show what the options are. I notice that everyone lives the same standard of life that we have today, or better! And it is cheaper in the end! This counters the skeptic argument that without Fossil Fuels we all have to go live in caves.

    Don: That is the saddest question.
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  10. adelady at 08:39 AM on 27 March, 2011

    It's only less than a century since the last of the great steel hulled cargo carrying four masted barques were still running commercially. The massive shift to fossil fuel powered vessels took only a generation (a positive lesson) but the transition also took more than will, technology, and imagination, it was a question of raw economics. Unfortunately, now as then, few people look to return on investment over timescales of even a single generation, and as Danas summary suggests, the competitive psychology of the free market is seen as a real barrier. Time to read the study.
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  11. I just want to chime in and support actually thoughtful here - it's not about the deployment of heat pumps - they are an important part of the solution, but about the use. And there are a few important points about energy-efficiency here that don't seem to have been touched.

    1. Heat pump efficiency is strongly dependent on cold side supply. Guess which heat source is most efficient for boosting the cold side supply - solar collectors! This winter, I have been using my collectors simultanously for direct heat collection and heat pump input (shunted in through a small heat exchanger, to control overheating of the heat pump).

    2. Heat pumps may be used for lifting the temperature after solar has done the first job. Then, circulation in the collectors can be increased (temperature lowered) and yield improved.

    3. With 60-90% coverage from solar collectors, and cold side boosting, heat pump energy use isn't much of a problem even with a FF dominated mix in electricity generation.

    4. Solar cell panels can provide the energy for heat pumps, and both heat pumps and solar collectors should be used with adequate accumulation capacity. Therefore, the pumps should preferably be run in daytime, when cold side supply is best and solar power available. Then, then pumps could also be used for air-conditioning if necessary.

    5. It is a smart thing to follow the EU parliament's lead and require all future new houses, from some point of time, being "plus-houses", producing more energy than they need.
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  12. SNRatio - will you please reach me via private email (XXX@XXXXXXX)? I really like your design and want to understand a few items more carefully. Thank you!

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  13. It's beginning to look like one or more of the Fukushima reactors have a core breach and is leaching material into the ground below, including ground water.
    That's more than enough for me to focus on renewables. One could say, it is unlikely to happen elsewhere, but mistakes are often made. One can expect similar incidents to happen every 20 years or so.
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  14. There's something a little incongruous about a study that's careful to limit consideration of electricity generation technologies to those that are well established assuming we'll switch to hydrogen for transportation. I personally expect what we will see is better batteries and ultracapacitors, electrified rail, perhaps with more autotrains for long distance trips, perhaps biofuels, and a more long-shot would be factories that use excess electricity to turn water and CO2 into gasoline; given the infrastructure challenges I'm not sure hydrogen is actually more likely than that last one.

    One thing I don't often see in these reports is to what extent industrial or other uses can be scheduled around power availability. I believe there already are some industries which operate at night for the cheap power. Uses like desalination may become more practical if you can desalinate and pump into reservoirs when power is plentiful and use the reservoirs when power is scarce.
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  15. Eric, the study doesn't assume we'll switch to hydrogen transportation. It allows for the possibility that hydrogen will be in the mix.
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  16. 50% coming from wind? This is the first study I have ever read or even heard of that gave such a high figure. I am very skeptical.
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  17. @michael sweet #9:

    You correctly echo the article's valid claim, "And it is cheaper in the end!"

    But the problem is that that is only when including the full cost of the externalities of fossil fuels. But the industry has been all too successful at foisting the costs for this on the rest of us. It has long been a political impossibility to force them to pay their fare share, and I don't see this changing until much too late, thanks to the BRIC success is scuttling Copenhagen, and the disastrous Republicunning triumphs in our last 'midterm' elections.
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  18. They should include bio-matter methane production and solid oxide fuel cells in the mix. This system is carbon neutral since the carbon is already part of the biosphere and we are just cycling it through like we do with our respiration. The other by-products are good soil building fertilizers without the leaching, soil depleting, and energy waste drawbacks of current fertilizers. The plant material needs little to no pre-conditioning beyond chopping. The use of native plants in the various regions reduces fertilizer and water issues.
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  19. Eric L @14

    Valid point. What is often not considered is the extent too which 'baseload' demand is policy generated. A common practice when big coal FF plants are your source of 'baseload' generation is to implement pricing policies to push demand into 'off-peak' periods. Here in southern Australia a major aspect of this cheap 'off-peak' power demand is over-night heating of hot water. All to flatten out the demand curve to let the big coal plants runn efficiently.

    If we are looking at a renewable energy grid we need to consider what policies - pricing and other - can shift 'moveable' demand to those times of the day most advantageous to renewables. All debates over 'renewables cant do base load' need to be tempered by this judgement.
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  20. "Similarly, we consider only those technologies that have low impacts on wildlife [...] and land"

    Would be interesting if the author also defines what is meant with "low impacts" as this is an issue that clearly can be debated.
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  21. Peter Hogarth and adelady

    Sail for modern cargo ships is not a new idea, as you might know. You may have heard of the mega yacht - modern square rigged luxury vessel, the nearly 300 ft. Maltese Falcon. Belongs to one of those Silicon Valley billionaires.
    It uses a computerized rig with rigid sails called a Dyna Rig, that was originally developed for cargo ships.
    The idea is not to turn cargo ships into sailing vessels, but sail assisted vessels, or motorsailors. (the Maltese Falcon is more of a sailboat.)


    And more recently the SkySail has been developed, basically a parasail flown like a kite hundreds of feet off the deck. They are relatively cheap and can save 10%- 35% on fuel, depending on the passage, wind direction etc.

    "Currently, SkySails is offering towing kite propulsion systems for cargo vessels with an effective load* of between 8 and 16 tons. SkySails with an effective load* of 32 tons are under development. The planned product program comprises towing kite propulsion systems with an effective load* of up to 130 tons."

    "An effective tractive force of 8 tons by a SkySail corresponds to approx. 600 to 1,000 kW installed main engine power on average - depending on the ship‘s properties (propeller efficiency degree, resistance, etc.) "

    http://www.skysails.info/english/company/

    They work on any point of sail a sailboat can sail. In other words, about 290 out of 360 degrees.
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  22. Eric:
    The cost of FF is already rising as the supply runs low. Hybrid cars are a response to high gas prices. Mountaintop mining would not be done if there was more coal available. The question is how much does coal have to go up before the public supports policies that favor renewables. When Spain's electricity is cheaper than the rest of Europe it will be a real eye opener. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.
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  23. Michael - how do you expect Spain to have cheaper electricity (assuming no government subsidy?)

    Wind is bad news. Wind farms in the UK have been turned off because they caused havoc with the main grid supply as the supply fluctuated with wind changes. They also pay the windfarms to shut down when they supply power when it's not needed. All false economy.

    I think this is all fantasy, supplying all power from such variable sources. Of course, it can work, but the cost will be mind blowing. Imagine a fortnight of rain and no wind - where does the power come from? How would it be realistically stored? I can remember over a month of wind free rainy days.
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  24. rhjames: The fact that wind turbines can be easily disengaged and the fact they are well distribruted is a positive attribute not a negative one.

    Power stations are taken off line and put on line and they make a much bigger impact to the grid than a few smaller wind turbines going on and offline.

    When you take a power station off line you have to be much more careful (take a look at Fukushima and the impact large powers stations have on grid stability).

    How do you solve these issues?
    You do it by managing the resources you have so that the grid frequency doesn't fluctuate to much. Whatever mix you have, you are going to have problems to manage. The fact that for years we have had one type of source (large powers stations) just means that we have developed grid management systems for that specific scenario.

    That isn't practical for future scenarios so new ways of managing renewables connect6ed to the grid are being developed. That's what engineers do, solve problems.
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  25. Rhjames:
    Spain got 16% of its electricity in 2010 from wind see this Wikipedia article. As FF get more expensive their wind will be free. The fuel is one of the biggest costs of a FF power plant.

    I find it hard to believe that wind farms in the UK cannot be accomodated when Spain has done it. Perhaps the Spainish are smarter. Please provide references. On the other hand, I expect that when new technology is introduced there will be a learning curve. As we learn more these issues will go away.

    I note that you have not pointed out a single item in the posted article that you find incorrect, you just wave your hand and say "I don't believe". Not very convincing. People who have carefully thought about this problem believe it can be solved. The article discussed cost. Where is the problem that you have found with their calculations?
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  26. rhjames:
    "They also pay the windfarms to shut down when they supply power when it's not needed. All false economy."

    Cherry picking. All power stations are paid money for being idle when to much is being generated or there is not enough demand. Please do not distort the facts for political and prejudiced reasons.
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  27. The Ville at 22:01 PM, but also do not overlook the fact that windfarms change the system from one with a fixed supply and a variable demand to a system with a variable demand and supply, perhaps even an erratic supply.
    It's a lot harder, and costlier, to accommodate two variables.
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  28. John D, it is a very easy thing to change Wind Farms from being variable to being a fixed supply-I suggest you look into Vanadium Redox Batteries, which are making great strides with every passing year. Not that Wind Power is nearly as variable as the knockers claim it is-with or without storage. Lastly, with storage it will be much easier to adjust the energy output of wind farms than is currently the case with coal or nuclear power.
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  29. Its worth noting that, after California, the biggest US investor in Wind Power is Texas-hardly a State I'd associate with being keen on protecting the environment. I can only guess that they see the value of investing for future energy needs *now*-rather than when its too late. Texas, as I understand it, are also looking at Compressed Air as a storage mechanism. The Germans, meanwhile, have pumped storage. Either one of the 3 options I've mentioned can all but eliminate the variability of supply-especially if coupled with a decent distribution of individual turbines.
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  30. On J&D's suggestion #4 "Use energy storage technologies", hopefully that includes thermal storage. I think techniques like vehicle battery storage might help with a little marginal power, but thermal masses can store lots more heat energy if properly designed. Here in Virginia (where it still seems to be winter), the majority of energy is used to keep warm and for transportation. Rather than use up vehicle batteries on any aspect of keeping warm, we need to improve passive solar (plus the active solar and heat pumps mentioned above). It is probably the case that 99.9% of houses are suboptimal or very suboptimal in terms of passive solar (which includes summer cooling).
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  31. johnD:
    "It's a lot harder, and costlier, to accommodate two variables."

    It's not hard. If you take that attitude then everything is hard and we would have never have developed any system we have today. If you go back to the 1940s then playing music from files on a silicon chip would have seemed like science fiction (it was science fiction, because that was exactly what science fiction authors wrote about).

    What really annoys me is the idea that:

    1. People are stuck in some sort of time warp in which nothing can possibly change and we must have what we have today.
    2. People are dumb and all the technology we have today magically appeared from no where.

    Just in the UK alone we have two completely new energy storage technologies being developed/researched. And it was only a few days ago that new developments in better battery cathodes promises extremely quick charging times for existing battery technologies.

    What I find extremely puzzling, is that skeptics are optimistic about future climate and pessimistic about any new technology developments that would replace existing technology. Or rather maybe it should not be puzzling, given vested interests and a complete cynicism about science.
    Yet these same people lap technology up once it is universal.

    IMO you have to make your mind up, get on with the job of changing, or just go and sit in a cave somewhere. You have those two choices.

    Isentropic energy storage:
    http://www.isentropic.co.uk/
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  32. rhj #23: "Wind farms in the UK have been turned off because they caused havoc with the main grid supply as the supply fluctuated with wind changes."

    I'll see that non-specific example with a specific one. Texas had a freeze in early February; mechanical issues with freezing water pipes caused a number of coal-fired plants to go off-line. Natural gas shortages (in Texas, no less!) prevented backup generators from starting. A series of 'rolling blackouts' began statewide on what was one of the coldest days of the year. Unlike these unreliable fossil fuel plants, the wind kept sweepin' down the plain:

    Wind energy played a critical role in limiting the severity of the blackouts, providing enough electricity to keep the power on for about three million typical households. ERCOT, the Texas grid operator, has confirmed that wind energy was providing between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of electricity (about seven percent of ERCOT demand at that time), roughly what it was forecast and scheduled to provide, during the critical 5–7 a.m. window on [Feb. 2] when the grid needed power the most. --- Texas climate news, 2 Feb 11

    Despite progress, Texas remains the state with the highest CO2 emissions in the US.

    ERCOT reported last month that wind-generated power had increased to 7.8 percent of the electricity used in Texas during 2010, compared to its 6.2 percent share in 2009. Coal produced the most electricity last year with 39.5 percent, followed by natural gas, the 2009 leader, which was down to 38.2 percent. -- same source

    We're all used to cheap, amply available fossil fuels; perhaps our judgment is clouded by that history. The situation will no doubt be different as we slide along the downwards side of an energy supply curve. Perhaps resistance to change is highest in places that have neither experienced the damage done by lost supply nor the benefits of available alternatives.
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  33. Solar makes sense:

    1. for situations where the power is used when it is generated (schools, businesses that operate during daylight )

    2. for situations where the power is used where it is generated so that it does not require additional footprint for distribution. That means rooftops - and -not- the large generating farms.

    3. for situations where the generation does not require huge amounts of water - which means localized PV and not thermal plants.

    4. to a limited amount where the daytime capacity does not exceed the nighttime demand so that plants can operate at max efficiency. Otherwise, one is decreasing efficiency which increases cost and carbon intensity.

    5. to the extent that we don't have to tear up all the ocean floor digging out the trace minerals necessary for the chinese to build us PV cells.

    6. Passive solar makes sense everywhere.

    As I have posted, I don't believe CO2 is a problem, but if active solar can be cost competitive ( it still isn't after many decades ), we should use it.
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  34. ClimateWatcher... If you click the link in Dana's article related to Steven Chu you'll see that they are projecting that solar with be cost competitive without subsidies by the end of the decade. That should be a major game changer.
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  35. The Ville at 00:33 AM, you have gone off on a tangent.
    My observation of accommodating two variables as being harder and costlier in no way construes it as being impossible, merely how it compares relative to not having to accommodate two variables.

    Unless we can recognise and evaluate the options available, sorting out those that are less hard and less costlier from those that are more hard and more costlier, then we are likely to be continually blindly led down the wrong paths, which unfortunately seems to be an increasingly frequent occurrence with many governments of the developed world.
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  36. Did the study estimate the effect on birds deaths due to WindFarms ? Will they same standard be applied to Windfarms as oil ?


    The current state of WindFarms shows some cause for concern.
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  37. "The current state of WindFarms shows some cause for concern"

    Ah, that old myth is back again. In the US, Wind Farms account for about 10,000 to 40,000 deaths per annum-which amounts to barely 1 death per year per MW of installed capacity. Of course, that figure has an upward bias because it includes the many thousands of older Wind Turbines that really *did*-& still do-cause a lot of bird deaths, due to poor siting, poor colouring & smaller, faster spinning blades. Wind Farms built in the US, post-2000, have a bird fatality rate much, much lower than the national average due to major improvements in siting, better colour schemes & larger, slower moving blades. For a comparison, though, windows kill between 100 million & 1 billion birds per year in the US. Automobiles kill 60-80 million birds per year & oil extraction kills around 3 million birds per year. So, compared to other human activities, Wind Farms have very little impact on bird populations. Indeed, Wind farms even compare favourably to other forms of electricity generation, with Nuclear power causing almost twice as many deaths-per GWh-than wind (about 0.5 deaths vs 0.25), & about the same number of deaths as coal per GWh (about 0.22 for coal-without considering impacts of climate change-vs 0.25 for wind). Of course, as older wind farms are replaced with newer, more bird friendly turbines, the deaths per GWh figure for wind will almost certainly fall below 0.2.
    Of course, Stevee, if Wind Power was such a bane to bird life as you claim, then why does every Bird Preservation Society in the world give Wind Power such a big thumbs up? Of course, this endorsement does come with the caveat that the industry keep striving to reduce bird fatalities still further, but I doubt they'd side with a source of electricity generation that was so bad for the wildlife they're sworn to protect!
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  38. "the effect on birds deaths due to WindFarms ? Will they same standard be applied to Windfarms as oil?"

    Let's hope not.

    Bird deaths and spilt oil
    Every year at least half a million water birds die from encounters with spilt oil, according to Jay Holcomb, executive director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, California.

    Bird deaths in oil sand production facilities
    A new study says birds are likely dying in Alberta oilsands tailings ponds at a rate that is at least 30 times higher than that suggested by the oil industry.

    How oil affects birds
    When a bird encounters oil on the surface of the water, the oil sticks to its feathers, causing them to mat and separate, impairing the waterproofing and exposing the animals sensitive skin to extremes in temperature. This can result in hypothermia, meaning the bird becomes cold, or hyperthermia, which results in overheating. Instinctively, the bird tries to get the oil off its feathers by preening, which results in the animal ingesting the oil.
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  39. Well here's an interesting article about the future of fuel production.
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  40. As for regulation of wind (and PV) power, Europe has about 160 TWh of hydro magazine capacity today, about 5% of a year's electricity production, 2-3 weeks' production. Much of this magazine capacity can be modified for pumped hydro - there is only a need for much larger generation capacity, which is not that expensive to install.

    Already, Europe's wind power production is about 160-180 TWh, i.e. it has passed 5% of overall electricity generation - without much power system adaptations whatsoever. That there may occur problems with regulation and production in such a situation, is obvious. But I would have expected a lot more trouble with the rapid phasing in of wind and PV (>20 TWh now), and the problems are surely not very hard to solve satisfactorily. And, as has been pointed out here, several solutions are under development, in addition to the old, simple one of pumping hydro.

    As for environment impacts, most of future wind power will probably be offshore, mostly with floating wind turbines, like this seemingly succesful prototype. It is expensive to develop the technology, and cabling will never be cheap for most actual locations, but we are not talking oil investments worthless when the wells are empty after a few decades here.
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  41. Wouldn't solar powered battery charging of vehicles already be cost competitive if we we paying for the Mid East wars (and most of our military) directly through gas taxes? We could do without most of our military if we didn't need to import oil.
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  42. Eric L briefly mentioned Biofuels. Surely Biogas is the key to any strategy attempting to run an economy on renewables, since it can be pumped into tanks or reservoirs and therefore released to provide on-demand power.

    Anaerobic digestion techniques can be used to generate bio-methane and produce fertiliser as a by-product, with limited carbon emissions. I'm afraid both Biofuels and nuclear have had a bad press, albeit for different reasons.

    I'm not sure why J&D excluded biomass, since this is used on a small scale today. It is certainly wrong to exclude technologies based on ideology, since there are many biotechnologies and processes, some as environmentally compatible as others are destructive. The same could be said for nuclear. Biomass is the Cinderella of renewables, but probably the most important due to its ability to meet demand surges. It is being sidelined and we need every ally to stand a change of going carbon-neutral.
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  43. dana1981 #Original Post

    "We recently examined how Australia can meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020"

    Not very successfully I would suggest.

    [inflammatory comments snipped]

    Any energy technology might be technically possible, and some well proven and very good ideas (kite pulled ships for example) - the real question is cost. I could not see any mention of costs in dollar terms in the above article.
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  44. actual thoughtful - with a COP of 4-5 for compressors and solar thermal boosted heat pumps with a COP up to 9, solar assisted heat pumps will reduce the CO2 footprint also with FF electricity. Besides that, heating is most commonly done with FF. That CO2 is not being emited any more.

    J&D will have excluded biomass, just like in the ecofys program because they assume that the mainstream of the biomass will have to come from forest area and the like: the habitat of wildlife. The sponsors like WWF are not that enthusiastic about those options.

    As Perseus says, biomass -preferably agri-waste- can be used for on demand surges. It is (one of the) renewables with built in battery.
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  45. #28. Add H2 generation with low pressure storage and local fuel cells to the spectrum as well. H2 will do great as buoyancy on floating off-shore wind farms as well.

    Oil rigs do have local storage tanks for the gaseous fuel? Older oil rigs could be easily converted and pump the H2 through the pipes back to land. No need for costly HV sea cables. Point of worry might be H2 embrittlement of the pipes
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  46. Ger, not sure where we are disagreeing? My point is that a heat pump at a COP of 3-4 (but run by electricity from coal) puts you about even with a natural gas fired boiler. A heat pump with a COP of 9 (using solar thermal) and powered by renewable electricity is a slam dunk.

    But it is relatively EXPENSIVE to get that renewable electricity and relatively cheap to get that renewable solar thermal. So the strategy, for heating at least, has to be to eviscerate the load by conservation and solar thermal, then mop up the remainder with electrical sources (presumably ground source heat pumps).

    Completely agree that biofuels (not ethanol-from-corn) have a big future.
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  47. Artificial leaf:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110327191042.htm

    Interesting idea, produces hydrogen.
    It isn't clear how efficient it is in comparison to other methods of producing hydrogen.
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  48. Who's in denial now? Ignoring a major source of sustainable energy would be inadvisable.

    Any plan for 100% carbon-free energy that excludes nuclear is hopelessly unrealistic. 50% of our energy from wind? You gotta be pulling my leg. Biofuels? There's no future for biofuels, we need arable land to grow food. There's going to be 10 billion people on the planet soon.

    Go ahead and get all of the nuclear angst out of your systems now. But make it quick, because we're running out of time. Forward-looking thinkers have already come to the conclusion that we have no choice but to develop nuclear (and renewables) if we want to stop burning coal. Lovelock and Hansen, among others. If you look at the numbers, for renewables only, the numbers don't add up. withouthotair.com

    Generation IV
    - Use stockpiles of nuclear waste for fuel. No further mining needed.
    - Passively safe.
    - Proliferation resistant.
    - Some designs, such as the IFR, are not new technology. We can start building these plants now.

    Renewables and nuclear = climate and energy problems solved.

    Renewables without nuclear = we have to build more coal plants. Bad outcome.
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  49. Sean A: if you think that nuclear is going to stand up & be counted in the current political environment in most western countries, then you're sadly mistaken.

    If I recall correctly, the major reason that Hansen & Lovelock thought nuclear should be part of the mix is that there were no other sources of large-scale baseload power that they could see in the short term, both of them being convinced that we need to stop burning fossil fuels yesterday.

    Personally, I think that Gen IV reactors (like the IFR - Integral Fast Reactor, the LFTR - Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, and others) have the potential to supply enormous amounts of carbon-free electricity with very low risk (and certainly lower environmental & health impacts than coal!). But you need to convince a few hundred million others of that, and, as the latest election results from Germany show, the emotive anti-nuclear argument is winning the day right now, by a clear majority. Unless & until more dispassionate analysis by the voting public of the events at Fukushima Daiichi occurs, it's extremely unlikely that new nuclear plants will even be on the table for discussion, let alone actually built. Given the propensity of the mass media for hyping the doomsday scenarios that might eventuate, then dropping the story altogether when things get "boring" (i.e. not at all apocalyptic), I'm not holding my breath for that.

    So, given the #1 priority is to get rid of fossil fuels, then we need to put serious effort into other renewables for a while. The progress I've seen over the past 5 years or so is pretty encouraging, I have to say, and with a bit more effort, we'll see where things go. Given the combination of high technological capability & large "Greens" political influence, I'm expecting some exciting developments to come out of Germany over the next few years (fingers crossed!).
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  50. johnd: regarding your comments on variability of supply & demand - note that there has been decades of effort put in to "levelling" the demand curve. This is due to the increased efficiency of running coal-fired plants at constant load, not because of any insurmountable difficulty in matching supply & demand.

    One of the biggest impacts of that we see locally (at least in Queensland), is that it is illegal to connect electric water heaters to normal supply - they *must* be connected to a different, controlled supply, where the electricity network managers can turn them on & off remotely to shape the demand curve. This mostly results in them running at night, to boost minimum demand. It has the side effect that they also draw power when prices are lowest, so a lower tariff is charged.

    Even with efforts like this, however, there is still a 40% drop in demand for electricity at night. Take the demand-levelling out of the equation, and you'd find that the demand curve would peak higher during the day, and plummet much lower at night. Hmm, that sounds like a ripe candidate for solar generation with storage...

    Ken Lambert: If you read the Part II paper linked in the article, you'll find a lot of information on costs. Basically, most renewables are expected to be competitive with coal (and cheaper than gas) within ~10 years or so. Some are competitive now.

    If you factor in the costs of destabilising the world's climate, then fossil fuels are more expensive now than nearly every alternative out there. The number quoted in the paper (about 14c/kWh, although it might be double that or more) equates to a carbon price of at least $150/tCO2, I think (not 100% certain how the numbers convert). To put that in perspective, electricity prices here have increased ~8c/kWh over the past 8 years, when there has been no carbon pricing whatsoever. That's all to pay for transmission network upgrades, and the cost is borne entirely by the consumers, while the wholesale price of generation has remained fairly static.

    When you include carbon pricing at $150/tCO2, then solar PV is cheaper than coal right now. Given that it's projected to be cheaper than coal *without* carbon pricing by 2020, you'd have to be a mug to think a coal-fired plant is a good investment. Either that, or have a lot of friends in government who can keep up a supply of tax breaks, subsidies, and barriers to entry to keep other players out of 'your' market.

    Oddly enough, we have just those kinds of barriers here in Australia. Transmission network improvements required to bring online a new generator (e.g. a windfarm or solar plant) must be 100% paid for by the wholesale price of electricity from that generator, despite all the existing generators (nearly all coal-fired) having been permitted to spread their network costs across the entire network (when it was all government owned - the privatised generators now don't have to pay for the network costs at all).
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