In my note on climate change risk, I characterized the views of those who think a near-term transition to renewable "clean" energy is hard but achievable as ludicrous. These are the "have your cake and eat it too" people who believe the economy can grow and grow without pause as we replace all (or most) of our fossil energy with "wind, water and sun" (WWS). Stanford's Mark Jacobson and his colleagues espouse this view.
Three times now, Mark Jacobson has gone out on the same limb. In 2009 he and co-author Mark Delucchi published a cover story in Scientific American that showed how the entire world could get all of its energy—fuel as well as electricity—from wind, water and solar sources by 2030. No coal or oil, no nuclear or natural gas. The tale sounded infeasible—except that Jacobson, from Stanford University, and Delucchi, from the University of California, Davis, calculated just how many hydroelectric dams, wave-energy systems, wind turbines, solar power plants and rooftop photovoltaic installations the world would need to run itself completely on renewable energy.
The article sparked a spirited debate on our Web site, and it also sparked a larger debate between forward-looking energy planners and those who would rather preserve the status quo. The duo went on to publish a detailed study in the journal Energy Policy that also called out numbers for a U.S. strategy.
This elaborate fantasy comes with many specific details.
Two weeks ago Jacobson and a larger team, including Delucchi, did it again. This time Jacobson showed in much finer detail how New York State’s residential, transportation, industrial, and heating and cooling sectors could all be powered by wind, water and sun, or “WWS,” as he calls it. His mix: 40 percent offshore wind (12,700 turbines), 10 percent onshore wind (4,020 turbines), 10 percent concentrated solar panels (387 power plants), 10 percent photovoltaic cells (828 facilities), 6 percent residential solar (five million rooftops), 12 percent government and commercial solar (500,000 rooftops), 5 percent geothermal (36 plants), 5.5 percent hydroelectric (6.6 large facilities), 1 percent tidal energy (2,600 turbines) and 0.5 percent wave energy (1,910 devices).
In the process, New York would reduce power demand by 37 percent, largely because the new energy sources are more efficient than the old ones [image above].
And because no fossil fuels would have to be purchased or burned, consumer costs would be similar to what they are today, and the state would eliminate a huge portion of its carbon dioxide emissions.
Although energy demand in New York state is expected to increase—it may or it may not—it does not matter either way because actual energy consumption will fall 37% when we convert everything (including all of our current oil-based transport) to electricity and electrolytic hydrogen. Add some amazing efficiency measures, and the miracle is complete. For example, this text is from the study itself.
(2) Replace all fossil-fuel combustion for transportation, heating and cooling, and industrial processes with electricity, hydrogen fuel cells, and a limited amount of hydrogen combustion. Battery-electric vehicles(BEVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs), and BEV–HFCV hybrids sold in NYS will replace all combustion-based passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, non-road machines, and locomotives sold in the state. Long-distance trucks will be primarily BEV-HFCV hybrids and HFCVs. Ships built in NYS will similarly run on hydrogen fuel cells and electricity... [goes on]
(3) Reduce energy demand beyond the reductions described under [ref. 2] through energy efficiency measures. Such measures include retrofitting residential, commercial, institutional, and government buildings with better insulation, improving the energy-out/energy-in efficiency of end uses with more efficient lighting and the use of heat-exchange and filtration systems; increasing public transit and telecommuting, designing future city infrastructure to facilitate greater use of clean energy transport; and designing new buildings to use solar energy with more daylighting, solar hot water heating, seasonalenergy storage, and improved passive solar heating in winter and cooling in summer.
Sounds good! And remember, this is only New York state we're talking about here. To mitigate global warming, humans would have to take a similar approach in every country, state, and province on Earth.
We can interpret this energy "exercise" in one of two ways.
If this fantasy has been put forward as a serious proposal to guide New York state's future energy policy, then we can file this under if pigs had wings, they could fly. No doubt the screenplay for the movie Gravity was also elaborately scripted, and contained thousands of very specific details about how the film would be shot. That doesn't mean that any part of the movie could be true. There are elaborate "scripts" for colonizing Mars too.
If this fantasy has been put forward to demonstrate the near-total impossibility of weaning New York state off fossil fuels by 2030, then Jacobson, et. al. do an admirable job. Unfortunately, this reasonable interpretation is wrong. Jacobson and rest really do believe their own bullshit [video below].
It is important to note the extravagant the lengths humans will go to in order to avoid the terrible pain of powering down industrial civilization to mitigate global warming.
These elaborate renewable energy fantasies constitute another strong (albeit indirect) line of evidence suggesting that downsizing—shrinking of global population and economies— will never, ever happen, at least not as a "choice" humans will make of their own free will.