100% renewables

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There are various claims that individual countries, or even the whole world, could obtain all their electricity or even their whole energy supplies from various combinations of low-carbon "renewable" sources, excluding nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage and, usually, biomass. Reasons given for excluding nuclear energy range from general unquantified concerns about "safety", claims that nuclear is not a low-carbon source and assertion that (continued) use of nuclear energy will lead to nuclear war.

All proposed scenarios depend heavily on intermittent sources of renewable energy and can be categorised by how they propose to try to solve the problem of matching intermittent supplies to demand, and to what extent they quantify the measures they propose to do this. At one extreme Greenpeace based its 2012 energy [r]evolution on an assumption that the IT industry would somehow come up with a way of making demand match supply. At the other extreme Zero Carbon Britain offers a detailed, quantified plan based on converting excess intermittent electricity to storable chemical fuels. Between these extremes are proposals which depend on more or less plausible combinations of very long distance transmission of huge amounts of energy, prodigious amounts of storage and/or dispatchable hydro.

Few of these proposals have been published in the scientific literature or by recognised expert bodies. Of those which have, and which have been examined by the IPCC and other experts, none has been found to be generally satisfactory.

Jacobson et al

list of some publications


This paper reviews and ranks major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution mortality, and energy security while considering impacts of the solutions on water supply, land use, wildlife, resource availability, reliability, thermal pollution, water pollution, nuclear proliferation, and undernutrition. Nine electric power sources and two liquid fuel options are considered. The electricity sources include solar-photovoltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP), wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, wave, tidal, nuclear, and coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The liquid fuel options include corn-ethanol (E85) and cellulosic-E85. To place electricity and liquid fuel options on an equal footing, twelve combinations of energy sources and vehicle type were considered. The overall rankings of the combinations (from highest to lowest) were (1) wind-powered battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), (2) wind-powered hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, (3) concentrated-solar-powered-BEVs, (4) geothermal-powered-BEVs, (5) tidal-powered-BEVs, (6) solar-photovoltaic-powered-BEVs, (7) wave-powered-BEVs, (8) hydroelectric-powered-BEVs, (9-tie) nuclear-powered-BEVs, (9-tie) coal-with-carbon-capture-powered-BEVs, (11) corn-E85 vehicles, and (12) cellulosic-E85 vehicles. The relative ranking of each electricity option for powering vehicles also applies to the electricity source providing general electricity. Because sufficient clean natural resources (e.g., wind, sunlight, hot water, ocean energy, etc.) exist to power the world for the foreseeable future, the results suggest that the diversion to less-efficient (nuclear, coal with carbon capture) or non-efficient (corn- and cellulosic E85) options represents an opportunity cost that will delay solutions to global warming and air pollution mortality. The sound implementation of the recommended options requires identifying good locations of energy resources, updating the transmission system, and mass-producing the clean energy and vehicle technologies, thus cooperation at multiple levels of government and industry.
These build on Jacobson's 2009 paper.
  • Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes abstract preprint Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi, Mary A. Cameron, and Bethany A. Frew; Nov 2015
This study addresses the greatest concern facing the large-scale integration of wind, water, and solar (WWS) into a power grid: the high cost of avoiding load loss caused by WWS variability and uncertainty. It uses a new grid integration model and finds low-cost, no-load-loss, nonunique solutions to this problem on electrification of all US energy sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) while accounting for wind and solar time series data from a 3D global weather model that simulates extreme events and competition among wind turbines for available kinetic energy. Solutions are obtained by prioritizing storage for heat (in soil and water); cold (in ice and water); and electricity (in phase-change materials, pumped hydro, hydropower, and hydrogen), and using demand response. No natural gas, biofuels, nuclear power, or stationary batteries are needed. The resulting 2050–2055 US electricity social cost for a full system is much less than for fossil fuels. These results hold for many conditions, suggesting that low-cost, reliable 100% WWS systems should work many places worldwide.
Computer simulations by Professor Mark Z. Jacobson have shown that offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped the power of three real-life hurricanes, significantly decreasing their winds and accompanying storm surge, and possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages.
links to paper, additional resources, video etc, and to other of Jacobson's works

The Solutions Project

Organisation promoting Jacobson's work


Matching demand with supply at low cost in 139 countries among 20 world regions with 100% intermittent wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi, Mary A. Cameron, Brian V. Mathiesen; Renewable Energy; 11 Jan 2018

Matching electricity, heat, and cold demand with supply at low cost is the greatest concern facing countries seeking to provide their all-purpose energy with 100% clean, renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS). Implementing WWS worldwide could eliminate 4e7 million annual air pollution deaths, first slow then reverse global warming, and provide energy sustainably. This study derives zero-load-loss technical solutions to matching demand with 100% WWS supply; heat, cold, and electricity storage; hydrogen production; assumed all-distance transmission; and demand response for 20 world regions encompassing 139 countries after they electrify or provide direct heat for all energy in 2050. Multiple solutions are found, including those with batteries and heat pumps but zero added hydropower turbines and zero thermal energy storage. Whereas WWS and Business-As-Usual (BAU) energy costs per unit energy are similar, WWS requires ~42.5% less energy in a base case and ~57.9% less in a heat-pump case so may reduce capital and consumer costs significantly. Further, WWS social (energy + health + climate) costs per unit energy are one-fourth BAU's. By reducing water vapor, the wind turbines proposed may rapidly offset ~3% global warming while also displacing fossil-fuel emissions. Thus, with careful planning, the world's energy challenges may be solvable with a practical technique

Commentary & criticisms of Jacobson et el

Clack et al

Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar Christopher T. M Clack, Staffan A. Qvist, Jay Apt, Morgan Bazilian, Adam R. Brandt, Ken Caldeira, Steven J. Davis, Victor Diakov, Mark A. Handschy, Paul D. H. Hines, Paulina Jaramillo, Daniel M. Kammen, Jane C. S. Long, M. Granger Morgan, Adam Reed, Varun Sivaram, James Sweeney, George R. Tynan, David G. Victor, John P. Weyant, and Jay F. Whitacre; PNAS; 24 Feb 2017

Previous analyses have found that the most feasible route to a low-carbon energy future is one that adopts a diverse portfolio of technologies. In contrast, 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”. We find that their 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.

Scientists Sharply Rebut Influential Renewable Energy Plan James Temple; MIT Technology Review; 19 June 2017

On Monday, a team of prominent researchers sharply critiqued an influential paper arguing that wind, solar, and hydroelectric power could affordably meet most of the nation’s energy needs by 2055, saying it contained modeling errors and implausible assumptions that could distort public policy and spending decisions (see “Fifty-States Plan Charts a Path Away from Fossil Fuels”).
The rebuttal appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the same journal that ran the original 2015 paper. Several of the nearly two dozen researchers say they were driven to act because the original authors declined to publish what they viewed as necessary corrections, and the findings were influencing state and federal policy proposals.
The fear is that legislation will mandate goals that can’t be achieved with available technologies at reasonable prices, leading to “wildly unrealistic expectations” and “massive misallocation of resources,” says David Victor, an energy policy researcher at the University of California, San Diego, and coauthor of the critique. “That is both harmful to the economy, and creates the seeds of a backlash.”
The authors of the earlier paper published an accompanying response that disputed the piece point by point. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, lead author Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, said the rebuttal doesn’t accurately portray their research. He says the authors were motivated by allegiance to energy technologies that the 2015 paper excluded.
“They’re either nuclear advocates or carbon sequestration advocates or fossil-fuels advocates,” Jacobson says. “They don’t like the fact that we’re getting a lot of attention, so they’re trying to diminish our work.”

'Full toolbox' needed to solve the climate change problem CARNEGIE INSTITUTION FOR SCIENCE; AAAS EurekAlert; 19 Jun 2017

Solving the climate change problem means transitioning to an energy system that emits little or no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to new work from a team of experts including Carnegie's Ken Caldeira, achieving a near-zero-emissions energy system will depend on being able to draw on a diverse portfolio of near-zero-emissions energy technologies.
The study, from a group of 21 top researchers led by Christopher Clack of Vibrant Clean Energy, was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The group says that solving the climate problem will depend on making use of energy technologies such as bioenergy, nuclear energy, and carbon capture technology, correcting a misleading 2015 research roadmap that indicated the entire United States could be powered by just solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy.
"While wind, solar, and hydroelectric should play a central role in future American energy systems, we concluded that a much broader array of energy technologies is necessary to transition to a zero-emissions future as quickly and seamlessly as possible," said lead author Clack.
The team is particularly concerned about having backup energy sources to deal with variability in solar and wind, because current energy storage technology is not sufficient to cover gaps in production on a national scale.
"Our energy system is leaking waste carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When you call a plumber to fix a leak, you want her to arrive with a full toolbox and not leave most of her tools at home," Caldeira said. "Having a full toolbox means you are more likely to be able to solve the problem."
Careful evaluations of energy system transitions consistently show that broader portfolios form an important base to ensure success, the team concluded. By contrast, they added that studies that ignore all the options and make questionable assumptions don't do decision-makers and policymakers any favors.
"Unrealistic visions based on a very limited set of technologies have made it more difficult to actually transition to cleaner technology in the real world," Caldeira said. "The more technologies that we can bring to the table, the easier it will be to transition to a safe, affordable, and reliable energy system."

A bitter scientific debate just erupted over the future of America’s power grid Chris Mooney; Washington Post; 19 Jun 2017

Scientists are engaged in an increasingly bitter and personal feud over how much power the United States can get from renewable sources, with a large group of researchers taking aim at a popular recent paper that claimed the country could move beyond fossil fuels entirely by 2055.

The Appalling Delusion of 100 Percent Renewables, Exposed Robert Bryce; National Review; 24 Jun 2017

The idea that the U.S. economy can be run solely with renewable energy — a claim that leftist politicians, environmentalists, and climate activists have endlessly promoted — has always been a fool’s errand. And on Monday, the National Academy of Sciences published a blockbuster paper by an all-star group of American scientists that says exactly that.

Fisticuffs Over the Route to a Clean-Energy Future Eduardo Porter; NY Times; 20 Jun 2017

Could the entire American economy run on renewable energy alone?
This may seem like an irrelevant question, given that both the White House and Congress are controlled by a party that rejects the scientific consensus about human-driven climate change. But the proposition that it could, long a dream of an environmental movement as wary of nuclear energy as it is of fossil fuels, has been gaining ground among policy makers committed to reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. Democrats in both the United States Senate and in the California Assembly have proposed legislation this year calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources.
They are relying on what looks like a watertight scholarly analysis to support their call: the work of a prominent energy systems engineer from Stanford University, Mark Z. Jacobson. With three co-authors, he published a widely heralded article two years ago asserting that it would be eminently feasible to power the American economy by midcentury almost entirely with energy from the wind, the sun and water. What’s more, it would be cheaper than running it on fossil fuels.
And yet the proposition is hardly as solid as Professor Jacobson asserts.
In a long-awaited article published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the same journal in which Professor Jacobson’s manifesto appeared — a group of 21 prominent scholars, including physicists and engineers, climate scientists and sociologists, took a fine comb to the Jacobson paper and dismantled its conclusions bit by bit.
“I had largely ignored the papers arguing that doing all with renewables was possible at negative costs because they struck me as obviously incorrect,” said David Victor of the University of California, San Diego, a co-author of the new critique of Professor Jacobson’s work. “But when policy makers started using this paper for scientific support, I thought, ‘this paper is dangerous.’”
The conclusion of the critique is damning: Professor Jacobson relied on “invalid modeling tools,” committed “modeling errors” and made “implausible and inadequately supported assumptions,” the scholars wrote. “Our paper is pretty devastating,” said Varun Sivaram from the Council on Foreign Relations, a co-author of the new critique.
The experts are not opposed to aggressive investments in renewable energy. But they argue, as does most of the scientific community represented on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that other energy sources — atomic power, say, or natural gas coupled with technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere — are likely to prove indispensable in the global effort to combat climate change. Ignoring them risks derailing the effort to combat climate change.
A common thread to the Jacobson approach is how little regard it shows for the political, social and technical plausibility of what would undoubtedly be wrenching transformations across the economy.
He argues for the viability of hydrogen-fueled aviation by noting the existence of a hydrogen-powered four-seat jet. Jumping from that to assert that hydrogen can economically fuel the nation’s fleet within a few decades seems akin to arguing that because the United States sent a few astronauts to the moon we will all be able to move there soon.
He proposes building and deploying energy systems at a scale that has never been achieved and at a speed that nobody has ever tried. He assumes an implausibly low cost of capital. He asserts that most American industry will easily adjust its schedule to the availability of energy — unplugging when the wind and sun are down regardless of the needs of workers, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders.
And even after all this, the system fails unless it can obtain vast amounts of additional power from hydroelectricity as a backup at moments when other sources are weak: no less than 1,300 gigawatts. That is about 25 percent more power than is produced by all sources combined in the United States today, the equivalent of 600 Hoover Dams.
Jacobson's responses

The United States can keep the grid stable at low cost with 100% clean, renewable energy in all sectors despite inaccurate claims Mark Z. Jacobsona, Mark A. Delucchi, Mary A. Cameron, Bethany A. Frew; Letter to PNAS;

The premise and all error claims by Clack et al. in PNAS, about Jacobson et al.’s report, are demonstrably false. We reaffirm Jacobson et al.’s conclusions.
False Premise
Clack et al.’s premise that deep decarbonization studies conclude that using nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and bioenergy reduces costs relative to “other pathways,” such as Jacobson et al.’s 100% pathway, is false.
First Clack et al. imply that Jacobson et al.’s report is an outlier for excluding nuclear and CCS. To the contrary, Jacobson et al. are in the mainstream, as grid stability studies finding low-cost up-to-100% clean, renewable solutions without nuclear or CCS are the majority.
Second, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contradicts Clack et al.’s claim that including nuclear or CCS reduces costs ( “...high shares of variable RE [renewable energy] power...may not be ideally complemented by nuclear, CCS,...” and (7.8.2) “Without support from governments, investments in new nuclear power plants are currently generally not economically attractive within liberalized markets,...” Similarly, Freed et al. state, “...there is virtually no history of nuclear construction under the economic and institutional circumstances that prevail throughout much of Europe and the United States,” and Cooper, who compared decarbonization scenarios, concluded, “Neither fossil fuels with CCS or nuclear power enters the least-cost, low-carbon portfolio.”
Third, unlike Jacobson et al., the IPCC, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and International Energy Agency have never performed or reviewed a cost analysis of grid stability under deep decarbonization. For example, MacDonald et al.’s grid-stability analysis considered only electricity, which is only ∼20% of total energy, thus far from deep decarbonization. Furthermore, deep-decarbonization studies cited by Clack et al. have never analyzed grid stability. Jacobson et al. obtained grid stability for 100% wind, water, and solar power across all energy sectors, and thus simulated complete energy decarbonization.
Fourth, Clack et al.’s objectives, scope, and evaluation criteria are narrower than Jacobson et al.’s, allowing Clack et al. to include nuclear, CCS, and biofuels without accounting for their true costs or risks. Jacobson et al. sought to reduce health, climate, and energy reliability costs, catastrophic risk, and land requirements while increasing jobs. Clack et al. focus only on carbon. By ignoring air pollution, the authors ignore bioenergy, CCS, and even nuclear health costs; by ignoring land use they ignore bioenergy feasibility; by ignoring risk and delays, they ignore nuclear feasibility, biasing their conclusions.
Fifth, Clack et al. contend that Jacobson et al. place “constraints” on technology options. In contrast, Jacobson et al. include many technologies and processes not in Clack et al.’s models. For example, Jacobson et al. include, but MacDonald et al. exclude, concentrated solar power (CSP), tidal, wave, geothermal, solar heat, any storage (CSP, pumped-hydro, hydropower, water, ice, rocks, hydrogen), demand-response, competition among wind turbines for kinetic energy, electrification of all energy sectors, calculations of load decrease upon electrification, and so forth. Model time steps in MacDonald et al. are also 120-times longer than in Jacobson et al.

Climate Lawsuit Brewing? Robert Bryce; National Review; 18 Jul 2017

Mark Jacobson, the Stanford engineering professor who became the darling of the green Left by repeatedly claiming the U.S. economy can run solely on renewable energy, has threatened to take legal action against the authors of an article that demolished his claims last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
...Jacobson has also made it clear that he’s considering litigation. After hearing rumors about his legal threats, I obtained redacted copies of two e-mails Jacobson sent to Clack and his co-authors last month. In one e-mail, sent June 27 at 6:11 p.m., Jacobson warned, “just to keep you informed, I have hired an attorney to address the falsification of claims about our work in the Clack article.” About an hour later, Jacobson sent another e-mail to them. It concluded with Jacobson saying, “Yes, and I have hired an attorney.”
Note: Robert Bryce and the National Review are unreliable sources and the existence and content of the emails Bryce claims to have seen have not been corroborated elsewhere. However Bryce turned out to be right about Jacobson taking legal action:

An Environmentalist Sues over an Academic Disagreement Robert Bryce; National Review; 10 Nov 2017

Leonardo di Caprio’s favorite renewable-energy promoter, Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson, has set a new record in thin-skinned-ness. Jacobson has filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and Chris Clack, the lead author of a paper NAS published in June that roundly debunked a previous paper of Jacobson’s. The earlier paper had claimed it would be possible for the U.S. to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050. Even when Jacobson implied in an email to Clack that he was going to sue, a development I noted here in July, I didn’t believe he would actually do it. Nevertheless, on September 29, he did. Jacobson’s 42-page lawsuit, filed in federal court, hinges on the fact that Clack — and the 20 co-authors of the paper, who are not named as defendants — refused to accept the Stanford professor’s numbers on the amount of hydropower available in the U.S. Clack’s paper found that Jacobson had overstated hydropower’s potential by a factor of ten or so. The land-use requirements for wind power were equally cartoonish. Clack determined that Jacobson’s all-renewable scheme would require covering more than 190,000 square miles with turbines — an area larger than the state of California. Given the burgeoning coast-to-coast backlash against Big Wind, such a notion is absurd on its face. Rather than admit any errors, Jacobson claims that Clack — a Ph.D. mathematician who has worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and taught at the University of Colorado, and now has a consulting firm — and the National Academy damaged his reputation and made him and his co-authors “look like poor, sloppy, incompetent, and clueless researchers.”
A final point: As mentioned above, Jacobson didn’t sue any of the other authors of the Clack paper. That’s notable because nearly all of Clack’s co-authors have affiliations with big institutions, including schools such as Carnegie Mellon and Stanford, that would likely pay for their lawyers in a case like this. Clack doesn’t have institutional backing. He’s an independent consultant who now faces tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills for the sin of publishing an academic paper in one of America’s most prestigious scientific journals that refuted some of the silly claims being made by the climate crusaders.

Mark Z Jacobson's legal complaint against National Academy of Science and Christopher Clack (local copy) | Exhibits (local copy)

Stanford University Professor Mark Z. Jacobson Sues Prestigious Team of Scientists for Debunking 100% Renewables Michael Shellenberger; Environmental Progress; 1 Nov 2017

Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson has filed a lawsuit, demanding $10 million in damages, against the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and a group of eminent scientists (Clack et al.) for their study showing that Jacobson made improper assumptions in order to claim that he had demonstrated U.S. energy could be provided exclusively by renewable energy, primarily wind, water, and solar.
Jacobson’s lawsuit is an appalling attack on free speech and scientific inquiry and we urge the courts to reject it as grossly unethical and without legal merit.

Stanford professor files libel suit against leading scientific journal over clean energy claims Chris Mooney; Washington Post; 1 Nov 2017

Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University professor who has prominently contended that the United States can fully power itself with wind, water and solar energy, is suing the National Academy of Sciences and the lead author of a study published in its flagship journal that criticized Jacobson’s views — pushing an already bitter academic dispute into a courtroom setting.
The suit, which asks for more than $10 million in damages and retraction of the study, charges that lead author Christopher Clack “knew and was informed prior to publication that many of the statements in the [paper] were false.” It adds that the NAS “knowingly and intentionally published false statements of fact” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences despite being aware of Jacobson’s complaints.
“I am disappointed that this suit has been filed,” Clack said in an emailed statement. “Our paper underwent very rigorous peer review, and two further extraordinary editorial reviews by the nation’s most prestigious academic journal, which considered Dr. Jacobson’s criticisms and found them to be without merit. It is unfortunate that Dr. Jacobson has now chosen to reargue his points in a court of law, rather than in the academic literature, where they belong.”
Clack’s study had 21 authors, but Jacobson’s lawsuit only names him and the academy. The other authors include a number of high-profile academic names in energy and climate change research and policy — a list that Jacobson charges magnified the impact of the article in the media and thus the damage to his reputation.
“We stand behind the paper, and we think this is a scientific issue that needs to be debated by scientists and not in the courts,” said one co-author, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing litigation.

Climate Scientist Mark Jacobson Sues Journal For $10M Over Hurt Feelings Alex Berezow; American Council on Science and Health; 2 Nov 2017

ACSH has been around since 1978 but I doubt we have ever seen anything like this before.
Climate scientist Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University has sued the National Academy of Sciences, which publishes the prestigious journal PNAS, for publishing an article that disagreed with him. The lawsuit claims that Dr. Jacobson was libeled and slandered. He is suing to get the journal to retract the article.
For his hurt feelings and bruised ego, he also wants a big bag of money, $10 million to be precise.

National Academy says Stanford professor is trying to 'silence' scientific debate with his $10-million lawsuit Michael Hiltzik; Los Angeles Times; 1 Dec 2017

he National Academy of Sciences has called on a Washington, D.C., court to throw out a Stanford professor’s $10-million defamation lawsuit, calling the case “an unvarnished attempt to muzzle speech and end-run the First Amendment.”
The professor is Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who filed the lawsuit against the National Academy and environmental expert Christopher Clack in a Washington court in September. Jacobson asserted that he was defamed in a paper by Clack and 20 co-authors published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. The paper challenged Jacobson’s claim, in a 2015 paper published in the same journal, that wind, solar and hydroelectric power could provide 100% of the energy demand in the continental U.S. “at low cost” by about 2050.
As we reported recently, Jacobson’s lawsuit has roiled the scientific community because it looks like an effort to move a legitimate scientific debate out of the pages of peer-reviewed journals, where it belongs, and into the courtroom. That’s the point made in the National Academy’s dismissal motion filed this week and a similar motion filed by Clack. Both cite D.C.’s anti-SLAPP law, which prohibits “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” Such lawsuits aim to intimidate targets pursuing their rights to free speech. A hearing on the motions is scheduled for Dec. 29.
The National Academy asserts that Jacobson “seeks to censor the Academy for providing a forum for robust scientific debate on one of the foremost issues of public concern today” — that is, climate change — “and chill the critical exchange of ideas essential to scientific progress.” Jacobson’s goal, the Academy asserts, is “to silence those who disagree with him.”

Stanford's 100% Renewables A Roadmap To Nowhere James Conca; Forbes; 12 Dec 2017

Joshua Rhodes, you cannot question him without being excommunicated.
And by excommunicated, I mean sued in court.
In a bizarre and completely unscientific move, Jacobson filed a $10 million libel suit in Washington, D.C. Superior Court against another scientist, Dr. Christopher Clack, who dared to criticize him.

National Academy of Sciences wants Stanford professor's $10M lawsuit thrown out Rob Nikolewski; San Diego Tribune; 4 Dec 2017

Attorneys for the National Academy of Sciences late last week urged a Washington D.C. judge to throw out a $10 million lawsuit filed by Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson against the academy and a scientist who was the lead author of a paper that challenged a study Jacobson published two years ago.
The lawyers said Jacobson is trying to “silence those who disagree with him” and his suit amounts “to little more than an unvarnished attempt to muzzle speech and end-run the First Amendment.”

A Stanford professor drops his ridiculous defamation lawsuit against his scientific critics Michael Hiltzik; L A Times; 23 Feb 2018

Stanford environmental professor Mark Z. Jacobson made a big splash in 2015 with a paper predicting that renewable sources could provide 100% of the energy needed in the 48 contiguous states by 2050.
But he made an even bigger splash last September, when he responded to a critique of his claim published in a leading scientific journal by filing a $10-million defamation lawsuit.
After taking months of flak for what seemed to be an effort to stifle legitimate scientific debate by bringing it into the courtroom, Jacobson withdrew the lawsuit Thursday.

Stanford professor withdraws $10 million libel suit against journal, academic critic Chris Mooney; Washington Post; 23 Feb 2018

A Stanford University professor who has argued that the nation can power itself entirely with renewable energy by the middle of the century, said Thursday that he’s withdrawing a multimillion-dollar libel suit he brought against an academic critic.
Mark Jacobson’s announcement came shortly after a hearing in the lawsuit in a D.C. court this week. Last year, Jacobson sued Christopher Clack, lead author of a paper strongly criticizing Jacobson’s work, and the National Academy of Sciences. NAS’s journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published Jacobson’s original study and then Clack’s critique.
Among other claims, Jacobson had argued in the case that Clack had wrongly accused him of making “modeling errors” in his research when, in fact, Jacobson had simply made an “assumption,” which is sometimes necessary when trying to simulate a complex system like the U.S. electric grid. The assumption at issue was that existing hydropower dams could be modified so as to massively boost their energy output, albeit for temporary periods of time.
Clack and the National Academy of Sciences had argued that the lawsuit was an attack on free speech and academic freedom, and that it should be dismissed quickly under the District’s anti-SLAPP statute. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Blair King / Chemist in Langley

Blair King aka "A Chemist in Langley" has written several blog posts criticising the work of Jacobson (with and without Delucchi and others):

looks at Jacobson et al's dismissal of nuclear power, summarising that it is quite clear that the authors did not want to include nuclear power in the mix but that "instead of saying outright that they are excluding nuclear power to provide for an interesting research perspective they do so in a manner that smears nuclear power".
questions adequacy of supplies of the quantities of rare earth elements and lithium required in Jacobson et al's plans.
examines the feasibility of Jacobson et al's plans for storing the energy produced by intermittent renewables to cover gaps in availability.
examines Jacobson's 100% WWS scenario for Canada

Roadmap to Nowhere

ROADMAP TO NOWHERE: The Myth of Powering the Nation With Renewable Energy Mike Conley and Tim Maloney; Dec 2017

A commentary on the 2015 landmark paper:
100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS)
All-sector Energy Roadmaps for the 50 United States
by Mark Jacobson, Mark Delucchi, et al


Analysis and critique of the 100% WWS Plan advanced by The Solutions Project Timothy Maloney; (Blog)

I've gone through the 100% WWS Plan at some length, and here's my critique of it. Spoiler alert: The amount of land that it needs is vast; the amounts of money and material are enormous beyond your wildest dreams; and it won't work.

Here's what it would take for the US to run on 100% renewable energy David Roberts; Vox; 2015

Jani-Petri Martikainen ("a physicist with a keen interest on science and environmental and energy issues") PassiiviIdentiteetti blog:

The Environmentalist Case Against 100% Renewable Energy Plans Julian Spector; CityLab; 20 Jul 2015

Also reprinted by MotherJones as Why We Need Nuclear Power

Stanford Prof. Deletes Data From Study Showing Green Energy Will Kill Jobs Michael Bastach; Daily Caller; 13 Jan 2016

Claims that Jacobson deleted data showing net long-term job losses associated with his 100% WWS plans from a spreadsheet published on his website following criticism by a blogger, and subsequently admitted deleting the data but claimed it was "test" numbers.

Comments on Jacobson et al.'s proposal for a wind, water, and solar energy future for New York State Nathaniel Gilbraith & others, Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University; 2 May 2013 [paywalled]

Abstract: Jacobson et al. (2013) recently published a paper arguing the feasibility of meeting all of the energy demands in New York State with wind, solar, and water resources. In this forum we suggest that the authors do not present sufficient analysis to demonstrate the technical, economic, and social feasibility of their proposed strategy.

A critical review of global decarbonization scenarios: what do they tell us about feasibility? Peter J. Loftus1 et al, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, Volume 6, Issue 1, pages 93–112; Jan/Feb 2015 [paywalled]

"Dozens of scenarios are published each year outlining paths to a low carbon global energy system. To provide insight into the relative feasibility of these global decarbonization scenarios, we examine 17 scenarios constructed using a diverse range of techniques and introduce a set of empirical benchmarks that can be applied to compare and assess the pace of energy system transformation entailed by each scenario. In particular, we quantify the implied rate of change in energy and carbon intensity and low-carbon technology deployment rates for each scenario and benchmark each against historical experience and industry projections, where available. In addition, we examine how each study addresses the key technical, economic, and societal factors that may constrain the pace of low-carbon energy transformation. We find that all of the scenarios envision historically unprecedented improvements in energy intensity, while normalized low-carbon capacity deployment rates are broadly consistent with historical experience. Three scenarios that constrain the available portfolio of low-carbon options by excluding some technologies (nuclear and carbon capture and storage) a priori are outliers, requiring much faster low-carbon capacity deployment and energy intensity improvements. Finally, all of the studies present comparatively little detail on strategies to decarbonize the industrial and transportation sectors, and most give superficial treatment to relevant constraints on energy system transformations. To be reliable guides for policymaking, scenarios such as these need to be supplemented by more detailed analyses realistically addressing the key constraints on energy system transformation."

Mark Z. Jacobson is proud that his models disagree with IPCC (and almost everyone else)

He then uses his climate model to determine how a mixture of wind, water and solar energy collectors can, in total, produce 40% less energy each hour than the conservatively estimated power demand in 2050 published by the Energy Information Agency. His explanation for producing less energy than the EIA expects society will need is that electrical machinery is that much more efficient than combustion machinery.
The reason for emphasizing that Dr. Jacobson describes his model as a climate model is that it is not an energy production system model, not an economic model, and not a production scheduling model. The characteristics of power system components like generators, transformers, HVDC conversion stations, transmission lines, transmission towers, network operating centers, and numerous less visible but no less important components are treated in generalized, almost cartoon form.
His cost and schedule estimates are substantially less credible than hand waving; they amount to something like the following: “I have no earthly idea what my ideas are going to cost and how they are going to be planned, scheduled and implemented, but trust me, I know this will be cheaper. All we need to do for comparison is to include all of the invisible gains society will receive when we stop burning fossil fuels and biomass.”

David MacKay's reply to a claim of Jacobson's

Is it feasable that “The US could replace all its cars and trucks with electric cars powered by wind turbines taking up less than 3 square kilometres - in theory, at least"?
This "3 square kilometres" assertion is hilarious. If only they put turbines on thinner poles, perhaps held up by guy wires, the "area" taken by the turbines could be even smaller. (In case anyone has not understood Jacobson's joke, the joke is that he's talking about the area of the bases of the wind turbines. Did he write the article on April 1st?)

STEWART BRAND VS. MARK Z. JACOBSON: DOES THE WORLD NEED NUCLEAR ENERGY? - A REBUTTAL TO JACOBSON Dr. Patrick L. Walden; TRIUMF (Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics and accelerator-based science)

Critique of the 100 Percent Renewable Energy for New York Plan Edward Dodge; The Energy Collective; 17 Nov 2013

I feel compelled to respond to a paper that is widely referenced by anti-hydrofracking activists as proof that New York can move beyond fossil fuels and power 100% of its energy needs with renewables. The WWS (Wind, Water and Solar) Plan for New York (Jacobson et al., 2013) is part of a series of papers authored chiefly by Prof Mark Jacobson from Stanford University that can be found here. The New York paper includes contributions from Cornell University professors Bob Howarth and Tony Ingraffea. Jacobson attempts to makes the case that society can acquire all of the energy it needs for all purposes in a relatively short period of time from a combination of solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. Jacobson is opposed to nuclear power and also opposes all hydrocarbon fuels whether bio or fossil based because of the contention that all CO2 emissions must be eliminated in order to prevent a catastrophic melting of the arctic sea ice. The plan calls for an 80% conversion to WWS by 2030 and 100% conversion by 2050. Unfortunately the plans are deeply flawed from a practical and technical perspective.
CSP in New York!

A critique of Jacobson and Delucchi's proposals for a world renewable energy supply Ted Trainer; Energy Policy - Volume 44; May 2012 [paywalled]

Jacobson and Delucchi have recently put forward a detailed case in support of the claim that renewable energy sources can meet total world energy demand. The following argument is that this proposal is unsatisfactory, primarily because it does not deal effectively with the problems set by the variability of renewable energy sources, and also because its analysis of investment costs is inadequate.
The claims of Jacobson and Delucchi are the possibility of a world energy supply from renewable sources are critically examined. It is concluded that these claims are not justified. The discussion reinforces the case that renewable sources cannot sustain. energy-intensive societies.

The Cost of 100% renewables: The Jacobson et al. 2018 Study Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 26 Feb 2018

Proponents of a global transition to 100% renewable energy point to a number of studies which claim to show that such a transition is feasible, and arguably the most influential of these is the study of Jacobson et al. 2017, an updated 2018 version of which is now available. Jacobson’s methodology is far too complex to be reviewed here, and besides Clack et al. 2017 have already reviewed it. This post therefore summarizes what the Jacobson study says will be needed in the way of new generation, energy storage etc. to convert the world’s energy sector – electricity, transportation, industry, agriculture, the lot – to 100% wind, water and sunlight power (WWS) by 2050. Among other things it calls for a thirty-fold expansion in total world WWS capacity, including a seventy-fold increase in wind + solar capacity, and up to 16,000 terawatt-hours of energy storage. And the cost? Well, a few trillion here, a few trillion there, and pretty soon we‘re talking real money.

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) / Breyer

Simulation brings global 100% renewable electricity system alive for the first time Lappeenranta University of Technology; 3 Nov 2016

A new model developed by Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) shows how an electricity system mainly based on solar and wind works in all regions of the world. It shows the functioning of an electricity system that fulfils the targets set by the Paris agreement by using only renewable energy sources.
The global Internet of Energy Model visualizes a 100 percent renewable energy system (100%RE) for the electricity sector for 2030. It can do this for the entire world which, in the model, has been structured into 145 regions, which are all visualised, and aggregated to 9 major world regions.
"With the simulation, anyone can explore what a renewable electricity system would look like. This is the first time scientists have been able to do this on a global scale." says Christian Breyer, LUT Solar Economy Professor and a leading scientist behind the model.
The model is designed to find the most economical solution for a renewable electricity system. The model shows how the supply of electricity can be organised to cover the electricity demand for all hours of the year. This means that best mix of renewable energy generation, storage and transmission components can be found to cover the electricity demand, leading to total electricity cost roughly between 55 and 70 euros per megawatt-hour for all 9 major regions in the world.
But the story does not end here. The researchers have ambitious goals to develop the model further. Future upgrades will go from looking only at the electricity sector to showing the full energy sector, including heat and mobility sectors. The model will also describe how to transition from the current energy system towards a fully sustainable one.

Global energy model solely reliant on renewables realistically simulated Jack Loughran; IET Engineering & Technology; 10 Nov 2016

An electricity grid system 100 per cent based on renewable energy production that works in all regions of the world has been successfully simulated using a complex computer model. Created by a team at the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, it demonstrates how an electricity system that fulfils the targets set by the Paris Agreement by using only renewable energy sources could work.
This means that best mix of renewable energy generation, storage and transmission components can be found to cover the electricity demand, leading to total electricity cost roughly between 55 and 70 euros per megawatt-hour for all nine major regions in the world.
But the story does not end here. The researchers have ambitious goals to develop the model further. Future upgrades will go from looking only at the electricity sector to showing the full energy sector, including heat and mobility sectors.


slideshow presentation

Analysis / criticism of LUT plan

The Lappeenranta renewable energy model – is it realistic? Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 8 Mar 2017

No data to back up the 55-70 euros/MWh generation cost estimate are provided.
According to my rough calculations Europe would have to install an additional 500GW of PV and 900GW of wind to achieve LUT’s 2030 generation mix – and connect it all to a heavily beefed-up grid – in little more than a decade.
Britain:energy mix will require approximately 250GW of wind capacity and 70GW of solar capacity along with maybe 35GW of “other” capacity, about 15GW of which will be CCGTs and OCGTs. Battery storage requirements are around 65GWh with a peak charge requirement of 10.5MW.
France: Approximately 230GW of wind capacity and 90GW of solar capacity will be needed along with maybe 50GW of “other” capacity, about 13GW of which will be CCGTs and OCGTs. Battery storage requirements are around 90GWh with a peak charge of 14.3GW
Germany: Approximately 220GW of wind capacity and 150GW of solar capacity will be needed along with maybe 60GW of “other” capacity, about 25GW of which will be CCGTs and OCGTs. Battery storage requirements are around 135GWh with a peak charge of 21GW
The LUT model matches fluctuations in wind and solar generation to demand largely by varying export and imports, as evidenced by the strong inverse relationship between generation and imports/exports in Britain, France and Germany shown in Figures ...
By adopting this approach the LUT model assumes that every country in Europe, regardless of size, can balance its erratic renewables generation against demand the same way Denmark does it. Even the Danes admit they can do this only because they are a bit player on the Nordic Grid. For the approach to work on the large scale power deficits in one area must be offset by surpluses in another, which will not happen with solar because when it’s dark in one part of Europe it will be dark or getting dark everywhere else too. It probably won’t happen with wind either. Previous Energy Matters posts have demonstrated how wind lulls in Europe extend over large areas, leaving everyone with power deficits. Nevertheless the LUT model reportedly achieves a balance, so next we will look into the question of how it achieves i
I considered Britain, France and Germany as one single country (hereafter BFG)
The power transfers between BFG and surrounding countries are very large, and in Switzerland and Denmark on May 14 they approach or exceed the country’s total generation. Switzerland on November 23 is expected to absorb ten times as much electricity as it generates. The Czech Republic generates three times as much electricity at 11am on May 14 as it does at 7pm on November 23 while neighboring Poland generates the same amount. Results like these are not credible. The LUT model is bending the data beyond the limits of reality to make things balance.
Interconnector capacity: According to the LUT hourly data Britain will export up to 44.8GW, France up to 66.1GW and Germany up to 54.8GW in 2030, and interconnectors must be sized accordingly. Britain presently has only ~3GW of interconnector capacity with the continent while France and Germany have ~14 and ~22 GW respectively of interconnections with each other and with surrounding countries. So to match the LUT export totals Germany would have to add approximately 30GW, Britain 40GW and France 50GW of interconnectors. Again, it will be effectively impossible to install such enormous amounts of additional interconnector capacity in the time available.
Battery Storage: The LUT hourly data contemplate that Britain, France and Germany between them will have approximately 300GWh of battery storage in 2030. This much storage would keep the electricity flowing in these countries for only an hour or so during peak demand periods, so we can safely assume that its purpose is short-term load following. But 300GWh of lithium-ion batteries at current prices would cost upwards of 100 billion euros, and this is for Britain, France and Germany only. Assuming similar levels of battery storage for the other countries in the world that LUT has developed plans for would raise battery costs well into the trillions. It’s also questionable whether this many batteries could even be assembled and installed by 2030. After years of effort worldwide installed battery storage capacity is still down in the hundreds of MWh range –several orders of magnitude less than the 2030 capacities required by the LUT plan.

The Lappeenranta Internet of Energy in Europe Euan Mearns; Energy Matters; 22 Mar 2017

Is the Lappeenranta IOE Wind Model Realistic? Euan Mearns; Energy Matters; 25 Mar 2017

The Lappeenrata University of Technology (LUT) Internet of Energy (IOE) model for Europe aims to provide a 100% renewable electricity system costing €55 to €70 per MWh by 2030. A feature of the model are annualised wind profiles that plateau at capacity production which look nothing like the profiles of the current wind carpets. The profiles have the appearance of being curtailed, however, Professor Breyer who heads the LUT IOE team has explained that their model uses “weak turbines” that hit capacity production at lower wind speeds of 11 ms-1 compared with 14 ms-1 today. This is is combined with using taller towers with 160 m hub heights allowing the turbines to access stronger and more continuous wind. Tall towers today are about half that height. The result is that the LUT IOE wind turbines produce twice the energy of today’s – according to the model (Figures 6, 8, 10 and 12).

Zero Carbon Britain (CAT)

The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)'s Zero Carbon Britain.

French Environment and Energy Agency (ADEME)

French Environment and Energy Agency (ADEME)'s Vers un mix eléctrique 100% renouvelable en 2050 (and responses "ADEME was wise in not publishing its scenario" by Hubert Flocard, and "Analysis and comments on the report: towards a mix 100% renewables in 2050" - both in French).

Commentary & criticism of ZCB, ADEME etc

Critical analysis of ADEME and CAT/ZCB scenarios with particular reference to energy storage in: Renewable Energy Storage and Power-To-Methane Roger Andrews; Energy Matters blog; 25 Jun 2015

The Renewables Future – A Summary of Findings Roger Andrews; 13 Aug 2015

Elliston, Diesdendorf and MacGill: Australia

Simulations of scenarios with 100% renewable electricity in the Australian National Electricity Market Ben Elliston, Mark Diesendorf, Iain MacGill

Dispelling the nuclear 'baseload' myth: nothing renewables can't do better! Mark Diesendorf; The Ecologist; 10 Mar 2016

The main claim used to justify nuclear is that it's the only low carbon power source that can supply 'reliable, baseload electricity', writes Mark Diesendorf - unlike wind and solar. But not only can renewables supply baseload power, they can do something far more valuable: supply power flexibly according to demand. Now nuclear power really is redundant.

Commentary & criticism of Elliston, Diesdendorf and MacGill

Critique of the proposal for 100% renewable energy electricity supply in Australia Dr Ted Trainer; Brave New Climate blog; 2 Jun 2014

Elliston and Riesz

Future high renewable electricity scenarios – Insights from mapping the diversity of near least cost portfolios B. Elliston, J. Riesz

This paper reports on future electricity generation scenarios modelled using NEMO, a model that applies a genetic algorithm to optimise a mix of simulated generators to meet hourly demand profiles, to the required reliability standard, at lowest overall industry cost. The modelling examined the least and near least cost technology portfolios for a scenario that limited emissions to approximately one quarter of those from the Australian National Electricity Market (NEM) at present. It was found that all the near least cost solutions (within 15% of the least cost solution) involved wind capacity in the range of 31-51 GW, with 98.8% of these near least cost portfolios having at least 35 GW of wind installed. In contrast, the near least cost solutions consistently involved much lower quantities of PV, with 90% of the near least cost portfolios having less than 4.9 GW of installed PV capacity. This suggests that policies to promote high levels of wind deployment and grid integration are likely to be important for achieving low cost, low emissions outcomes, while policies to promote significant PV deployment may be less warranted in the absence of cost effective supporting technologies, such as battery storage or significant demand side participation.
3/4 of peer-rev'd refs are author's own. Other is BZE which proposes Australia abandon aviation by 2020. - Oscar Archer ‏@ActinideAge

Greenpeace / Brainpool

Wind power with 'windgas' is cheaper and greener than Hinkley Point C nuclear plant Ecologist


  • Wind power as an alternative to nuclear power from Hinkley Point C: At a lower cost / Short analysis an behalf of Greenpeace Energy eG, January 2016 (German only)
  • Wind power as an alternative to nuclear power from Hinkley Point C: A cost comparison / Short analysis an behalf of Greenpeace Energy eG, January 2016 (English)
  • Effects of Hinkley Point C on the german electricity market / Study on behalf of Greenpeace Energy eG, July 2015 (German only)
  • Level of public funding of Hinkley Point C / Short analysis an behalf of Greenpeace Energy eG, June 2015 (German only)


What happens when the wind doesn’t blow? Southern Alliance for Clean Energy blog


energy [r]evolution 2012

Technological opportunities Changes to the power system by 2050 will create huge business opportunities for the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector. A smart grid has power supplied from a diverse range of sources and places and it relies on the gathering and analysis of a lot of data. Smart grids require software, hardware and data networks capable of delivering data quickly, and of responding to the information that they contain. Several important ICT players are racing to smarten up energy grids across the globe and hundreds of companies could be involved with smart grids.
There are numerous IT companies offering products and services to manage and monitor energy. These include IBM, Fujitsu, Google, Microsoft and Cisco. These and other giants of the telecommunications and technology sector have the power to make the grid smarter, and to move us faster towards a clean energy future. Greenpeace has initiated the ‘Cool IT’ campaign to put pressure on the IT sector to make such technologies a reality.

energy [r]evolution 2015

5th Edition
  • Project manager and lead author Dr. Sven Teske, Greenpeace International
  • Global Wind Energy Council steve sawyer
  • SolarPowerEurope oliver schäfer
  • research & co-authors
  • Overall Modelling: dlr, institute of engineering thermodynamics, systems analysis and technology assessment, stuttgart, germany: dr. thomas Pregger, dr. sonja simon, dr. tobias naegler

2030 Energy Scenarios report

In early 2015 we were commissioned by Greenpeace UK to design and test an ambitious, low carbon 2030 energy scenario using the 'Smart Household Energy Demand (SHED) model. It shows that it is possible for the UK's power system to be nearly 90% renewably delivered by 2030, while electrifying 25% of all heating demand - and putting 12.7 million electric cars on the road. But only if we can cut demand for space heating by 57% in the next 15 years - a major challenge.

4 ways the UK can get almost all its power from renewables – without Hinkley

Energy Revolution 2015

Skeptical science

Can renewables provide baseload power? based on


Planet on the Ballot Paul Krugman; NY Times; 29 Feb 2016

Paul Krugman Needs an Energy Reality Check Robert Bryce; National Review; 3 Mar 2016

Chivers / Two Energy Futures

Two Energy Futures (links in site don't work - reported to Danny Chivers 03/05/2019)

The stuff problem Danny Chivers; New Internationalist blog;


Scott Cato / South West England

Power To Transform index page

Summary leaflet – easy to read pages

Summary leaflet – full spread

A report commissioned by Molly Scott Cato MEP reveals:
  • The region has the renewable energy resources to meet more than 100% of its total energy needs, including replacement of liquid fuels.
  • A move to a renewable energy economy has the potential to create 122,000 jobs, an increase in employment of 4.5% across the region.
  • One third of energy needs can be met from marine and inshore estuarine tidal energy, with the remaining two thirds from onshore renewables.
  • The cost of delivering 100% renewable energy to the region would be around £60 billion. The equivalent cost of delivering 100% of energy needs from nuclear would be around £83 billion.
  • Renewables offer opportunities for ushering in a Smart Grid Energy Storage system that would balance the intermittency of some renewable technologies
  • Local Smart Grids developed in conjunction with renewable energy resources would reduce the need for large scale pylons and transmission systems. In the South West we can demonstrate just how much better a society powered by clean, green energy would really be. As is so often the case, the right environmental choice will also ensure greater economic justice and help us build flourishing local economies. Locally produced renewable energy will bring a huge economic boost and new jobs and benefit in particular some of our more deprived rural economies. The South West of England has some of the world’s best renewable energy resources, in great abundance and great variety. All that holds us back from a renewable energy revolution and energy security is a failure of political will. Our politicians must progress beyond the fossil-fuel past into the sunny uplands of our shared renewable future.

The power to transform the South West: How to meet the region’s energy needs through renewable energy generation

Researched and written by The Resilience Centre
Commissioned by Molly Scott Cato MEP
Funded by the Green/EFA group in the European Parliament
  1. The South West region has the renewable energy resources to meet more than 100% of its total energy needs, including replacement of liquid fuels and electrifying railways.
  2. We could generate 67,448,817 MWhrs/year of renewable energy as 42,690,806 MWehrs of electrical energy and 24,758,010 MWth of thermal energy (67,449 GWhrs/year) from 31,804 MW of Generating Capacity (thermal & electricity).
  3. [the report omits a point 3]
  4. 34% of energy needs can be met from marine and inshore estuarine tidal energy, and 66% from onshore renewables.
  5. To enable the devenopment of renewable energy generation we would suggest installing 12,051 MWe capacity of smart grid energy storage to balance intermittency of renewables and allow demand led local smart grids to be developed.
  6. This energy storage would provide 19,281,000 MWhrs/year or 29% of energy as demand required.
  7. An estimated 122,000 full time equivalent jobs could be created if we deliver and maintain this renewable energy generation regionally, an increase in employment of 4.5% for the region.
  8. We estimate that the capital cost of delivering such a programme would be £59,484m, including £8,784m on Smart Grid energy storage. This is 72% of equivalent nuclear costs for delivering the same amount of energy.
  9. The equivalent cost of delivering 100% of the South West energy needs from nuclear is £82,510m or 138% of the equivalent cost of delivering with renewable energy.
  10. Renewables costs provide for a local smart grid with energy storage and flexibility to meet spikes and drops in demand and reduce need for large scale pylons and transmission systems.
  11. Renewables costs include £500m/year investment in local/regional grid reinforcement and upgrade, equivalent to an increased annual expenditure on grid upgrade and management of 64% each year.
  12. The potential annual value added for delivering the constrained renewable energy resources of the South West would be £4,286m/year, equivalent to an annual growth rate of 4.0% year on year and equivalent to 48% of the total value of the tourism industry and 87% of the aerospace and defence industry in the South West

UK National Infrastructure Commission

The National Infrastructure Commission’s plan for a renewable UK Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 19 Jul 2018

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was launched by then-chancellor George Osborne in October 2015 to “think dispassionately and independently about Britain’s long-term infrastructure needs in areas like transport, energy, communication, flood defence and the like.” Well, the NIC has now thought dispassionately and independently about energy and has concluded that the UK can meet its 2050 decarbonization goals with either a mostly nuclear or mostly renewable generation mix, but that “wind and solar could deliver the same generating capacity as nuclear for the same price, and would be a better choice because there was less risk”. Here we take a brief look at this renewables-beats-nuclear option to see whether it might work.


Nuclear Energy vs. Wind and Solar Mike Conley & Tim Maloney; 17 Apr 2015

Here's how much of the US would need to be covered in wind turbines to power the nation Leanna Garfield ; Business Insider UK; 26 Sep 2016

Though the US invested $14.5 billion in wind-power project installations last year, wind farms still provide less than 5% of the nation's energy, according to the American Wind Energy Association. AWEA's manager of industry data analysis, John Hensley, did the following math: 4.082 billion megawatt-hours (the average annual US electricity consumption) divided by 7,008 megawatt-hours of annual wind energy production per wind turbine equals approximately 583,000 onshore turbines. In terms of land use, those 583,000 turbines would take up about the total land mass of Rhode Island, Hensley says, because wind projects typically require 0.74 acres of land per megawatt produced.
Hensley considered that the average wind turbine has an output of 2 megawatts of power and is 40% efficient.
For comparison, solar projects operate at an average of 20% efficiency
When you multiply a wind turbine's average potential (2 megawatts) by its 40% annual energy efficiency, 365 days a year, you get Hensley's estimate of the megawatt-hours of energy production each turbine can produce (7,008).

David Roberts

The Eastern US could get a third of its power from renewables within 10 years. Theoretically. David Roberts; Vox; 31 Aug 2016

Model of Eastern Interconnect can accommodate 30 percent "variable generation" (VG)

David Roberts on the latest NREL 30% wind and solar study Russ Finley; Biodiversivist; 5 Sep 2016

consider this article to be a comment under David's article: The Eastern US could get a third of its power from renewables within 10years. Theoretically, which has no comment field.


100% renewable electricity in Australia Andrew Blakers, Bin Lu, Matthew Stocks; Energy; 29 May 2017

An hourly energy balance analysis is presented of the Australian National Electricity Market in a 100% renewable energy scenario, in which wind and photovoltaics (PV) provides about 90% of the annual electricity demand and existing hydroelectricity and biomass provides the balance. Heroic assumptions about future technology development are avoided by only including technology that is being deployed in large quantities (>10 Gigawatts per year), namely PV and wind.
Additional energy storage and stronger interconnection between regions was found to be necessary for stability. Pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) constitutes 97% of worldwide electricity storage, and is adopted in this work. Many sites for closed loop PHES storage have been found in Australia. Distribution of PV and wind over 10e100 million hectares, utilising high voltage transmission, accesses different weather systems and reduces storage requirements (and overall cost).
The additional cost of balancing renewable energy supply with demand on an hourly rather than annual basis is found to be modest: AU$25e30/MWh (US$19e23/MWh). Using 2016 prices prevailing in Australia, the levelised cost of renewable electricity (LCOE) with hourly balancing is estimated to be AU$93/MWh (US$70/MWh). LCOE is almost certain to decrease due to rapidly falling cost of wind and PV

100% renewable electricity in Australia Euan Mearns / Roger Young; Energy Matters; 1 Nov 2017

The object of his post, which was originally submitted as a comment, is an academic study published by Blakers et al that claims Australia can become a 100% renewables nation at relatively low cost. Roger Young questions the modelling work presented and asserts that the storage requirement has been under-estimated by a factor of 12 which naturally has a profound impact on the cost estimates.

Australia, energy storage and the Blakers study Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 13 Nov 2017

Roger Young’s recent post focused on the question of whether the energy storage requirements listed in Prof. Andrew Blakers’ study “100% renewable electricity in Australia” were realistic, but at the time no hard numbers on exactly how much storage Prof. Blakers’ scenarios would require were available. I have now come up with some reasonably hard numbers by applying Blakers’ scenarios to recent Australian grid data. Because the grid data cover a period of only a few months these numbers are not fully diagnostic, but they are sufficient to confirm Roger Young’s conclusion that the Blakers study seriously underestimates storage requirements.

Wind and solar on Thursday Island Roger Andrews / Mark; Energy Matters; 8 Feb 2018

In this post Mark documents the results of wind and solar data from Thursday Island that leaves him sceptical of the claims made by Prof. Andrew Blakers that wind generation spikes in Queensland will offset wind generation lulls in the rest of Australia
While rummaging around the internet to see if I could find any information on the performance of wind farms in Queensland (and especially in Far North Queensland – Andrew Blakers’ supposed panacea for the rather more correlated wind farm outputs in the NEM area), I came across Thursday Island, which installed a small two turbine wind farm 20 years ago. Thursday Island is about as FNQ as you can get – about 25 miles into the Torres Strait that separates Australia and Papua New Guinea. The bonanza came when I encountered a pamphlet from Harwell complete with charts showing monthly performance of the wind farm and its contribution to local power demand.

IRENA 2018

Global Energy Transformation International Renewable Energy Agency; 2018

Renewable energy needs to be scaled up at least six times faster for the world to start to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
The historic climate accord from 2015 seeks, at minimum, to limit average global temperature rise to “well below 2°C” in the present century, compared to pre-industrial levels. Renewables, in combination with rapidly improving energy efficiency, form the cornerstone of a viable climate solution.
Keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) is technically feasible. It would also be more economically, socially and environmentally beneficial than the path resulting from current plans and policies. However, the global energy system must undergo a profound transformation, from one largely based on fossil fuels to one that enhances efficiency and is based on renewable energy. Such a global energy transformation – seen as the culmination of the “energy transition” that is already happening in many countries – can create a world that is more prosperous and inclusive.

Criticism of IRENA 2018

How to save the world from climate catastrophe – the IRENA study Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 20 Nov 2018

IRENA, the International Renewable Agency, has just published a study showing how the world can meet the not-to-exceed-2°C emissions goal set by the Paris Agreement. It’s not a 100% renewables study – it still includes a little oil, gas and nuclear – but it concludes, unsurprisingly, that a massive expansion of renewable energy in all sectors will be needed between now and 2050, along with major improvements in energy efficiency, to keep the Earth within its allowable carbon budget. The study provides information on the changes that will be needed to meet this goal but provides no specifics on how they are to be met. It estimates the costs of the changes at $120 trillion (~$4 trillion/year from now to 2050, or about 5% of total world GDP) but provides no specifics on where the money is to come from. It is nevertheless confident that this massive outlay will be “dwarfed by the benefits”.
The IRENA report contains 73 pages, only 10 of which (Analysis and Insights in Key Sectors, pp. 31-40) deal with the specifics of the changes that are needed to achieve IRENA’s proposed “energy transition”. But no information is provided on how these changes are to be achieved and whether they will work if they are. Simulation models, such as those used in the Jacobson, Lappeenranta and Blakers studies, are normally used to perform this task, but IRENA seems to have by-passed this step. It has simply estimated how much renewable energy and improved energy efficiency is needed to meet the 2°C emissions goal, and the costs thereof, and it presents these estimates as achievable solutions rather than targets.
REmap’s assumed energy efficiency improvements cut the world’s 2050 energy consumption by 40% over what it would otherwise have been
The REmap scenario envisions a doubling of electricity generation, achieved mostly by a massive expansion of wind and solar, coupled with a reduction in fossil fuel generation
The percentage of renewables in the mix increases from 24% to 85% between 2015 and 2050. The remaining generation consists of 4% nuclear and 10% gas
  • Hydro capacity expands by 37.5% between 2015 and 2050 and pumped hydro capacity by a factor of 2.1 (note that capacity is again give in GW, not GWh). This is optimistic but not unreasonable.
  • Onshore wind capacity expands by factor of 12.3. The feasibility of this is questionable. Onshore wind is already coming under attack for its visual and potential health impacts, and the scale of the additions (an annual average of 150GW, roughly twice the UK’s total installed capacity) far exceeds anything achieved to date.
  • Offshore wind capacity expands by a factor of 43. Enough said.
  • Solar PV capacity expands by a factor of 32, an average rate of 230 GW a year. The maximum annual rate achieved so far, with the assistance of generous subsidies, is 100 GW/year.
  • CSP (concentrated solar power) capacity expands by a factor of 127 to 633GW, roughly twice Japan’s present installed capacity. As discussed in posts here and here CSP is a borderline failed technology.
  • Bioenergy capacity expands by a factor of 3.2 to 384 GW. I don’t have enough information to say whether this is feasible or not.
  • Geothermal capacity expands by a factor of 23 to 227 GW. As discussed in this post there aren’t enough high-temperature geothermal resources in the world to support this level of expansion.
  • Others (marine, hybrid) expand by a factor of 2,937 to 881 GW, not far short of total installed capacity in the European Union. If two-thirds of it is tidal we are looking at approximately 2,500 Swansea-Bay-sized tidal lagoons.
The question here is whether the generation from this capacity mix will cover demand 24/365 in all parts of the world. Simulation models, such as those used in the Jacobson, Lappeenranta and Blakers studies, are normally used to perform this task, but IRENA seems to have bypassed this step altogether. It has simply estimated how much renewable energy and improved energy efficiency is needed to meet the 2°C emissions goal, and it presents these estimates as achievable solutions rather than targets. Whether they would cover global demand 24/365 is, however, questionable. Conditions will of course vary in different places, but with 41,500 TWh of annual generation the average load will be 5.4 TW – substantially more than the 3.5 TW of dispatchable generation, some of which will not be well-adapted for load following. Managing wind and solar surpluses and deficits could therefore pose a problem.
And how does IRENA propose to manage it? It devotes only two short paragraphs, neither of which tells us much, to the issue (note: VRE = Variable Renewable Energy):
Investments will be needed for storage, transmission and distribution capacity, and for flexible generation and demand-response. Between 2015 and 2050, investments in these areas would add an estimated USD 9 trillion under the REmap Case (relative to the Reference Case). This investment would allow the system to accommodate 62% VRE while ensuring an adequate, stable and reliable electricity supply.
Support investment to enable infrastructure to integrate VRE and smart technologies (including batteries, smart charging for electric vehicles, blockchain, machine learning, use of “big data”) that have the potential to optimise extensive use of renewables to generate power.
And how much storage capacity will there be? None is listed in Figure 6, but the Transport section (IRENA Figure 10) includes 12,380 GWh of EV battery storage, enough to keep the world in electricity for about two hours assuming 100% charge/discharge efficiency. According to IRENA this capacity will come from over 1 billion EVs.
sales of electric vehicles, electric buses and electric two- and three-wheelers are growing. In 2017 around 3 million electric vehicles were on the road. Under the REmap Case, the number would increase to over 1 billion by 2050.
But 12,380 GWh spread over 1 billion EVs gives an average of only 12.38 kWh/vehicle, so many of these vehicles will be two- and three-wheelers used for transportation in developing countries. Whether these vehicles can be counted on to discharge their batteries when the grid needs it is questionable. Whether owners of four-wheel EVs in developed countries can be counted on to discharge their batteries when the grid needs it questionable too.

Energy Matters

Euan Mearns and Roger Andrews at the Energy Matters blog have posted analyses of various scenarios for achieving reliable electricity supplies from wind and solar energy.

Wind + storage for peak-smoothing

The Cost of Dispatchable Wind Power Euan Mearns; Energy Matters; 15 Jun 2015

I calculate how much storage would be required to deliver the diurnal peaks in demand from dispatchable wind – pumped – storage – hydro. I’ve taken this approach for a number of reasons:
  • The daily demand peaks fetch the highest prices and supplying these peaks follows the traditional finance model for pumped storage hydro – buying low and selling high
  • Servicing the peaks as opposed to base load minimises the amount of storage required (the demand peaks represent 18% of total demand in March 2015)
  • Supplying the demand peaks in the UK from wind + storage will allow about 20 GW of conventional generation to be retired
  • Allowing the fossil fuel generators to supply base load allows them to run at optimum efficiency and to minimise their CO2 emissions per unit of electricity produced. By way of contingency it leaves the door open for an all-nuclear base load supply.

Over-capacity and curtailment

The quest for 100% renewables – can curtailment replace storage? Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 23 Jun 2017

Previous Energy Matters posts have highlighted the prohibitive amounts of energy storage that are needed to make 100% intermittent renewables work. In this post I give the problem one last shot. Can storage requirements be reduced to manageable levels by producing more renewable energy than is needed to fill demand and curtailing the surpluses? The answer is no. Curtailment does indeed reduce storage requirements, but not to manageable levels. This would appear to eliminate the possibility of developing a grid powered 100% by intermittent renewables. Backup fossil fuel generation will always be needed to fill demand when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.

Wind Blowing Nowhere Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 23 Jan 2015

In much of Europe energy policy is being formulated by policymakers who assume that combining wind generation over large areas will flatten out the spikes and fill in the troughs and thereby allow wind to be “harnessed to provide reliable electricity” as the European Wind Energy Association tells them it will:
The wind does not blow continuously, yet there is little overall impact if the wind stops blowing somewhere – it is always blowing somewhere else. Thus, wind can be harnessed to provide reliable electricity even though the wind is not available 100% of the time at one particular site.
Here we will review whether this assumption is valid. We will do so by progressively combining hourly wind generation data for 2013 for nine countries in Western Europe downloaded from the excellent data base compiled by Paul-Frederik Bach, paying special attention to periods when “the wind stops blowing somewhere”. The nine countries are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Germany, Spain and the UK, which together cover a land area of 2.3 million square kilometers and extend over distances of 2,000 kilometers east-west and 4,000 kilometers north-south:

Quantifying wind surpluses and deficits in Western Europe Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 7 Nov 2018

This post updates my January 2015 Wind blowing nowhere post using 2016 rather than 2013 data. The 2016 data show the same features as the 2013 data, with high and low wind conditions extending over large areas and a decreasing level of correlation with distance between countries. The post also quantifies the surpluses and deficits created by high and low wind conditions in January 2016 in gigawatts. The results indicate that wind surpluses in Western European countries during windy periods will be too large to be exported to surrounding countries and that wind deficits during wind lulls will be too large to be covered by imports from surrounding countries. This casts further doubt on claims that wind surpluses and deficits in one region can be offset by transfers to and from another because the wind is always blowing somewhere.

Offshore wind - more reliable?

Can offshore wind be integrated with the grid? Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 7 Jul 2017

This is absolutely, positively my last effort to find something good to say about wind power. Previous Energy Matters posts that highlight the difficulties of integrating intermittent wind power with the grid have been based dominantly on onshore wind data, but claims that offshore wind is significantly less erratic and will therefore be much easier to integrate with the grid have not been checked. This post reviews the question of whether it will. It finds that offshore wind is indeed less erratic than onshore wind but still nowhere near consistent enough to do away with the need for storage or conventional backup generation.

Converting intermittent to reliable

Grid-Scale Storage of Renewable Energy: The Impossible Dream Euan Mearns; Energy Matters; 20 Nov 2017

The utopian ambition for variable renewable energy is to convert it into uniform firm capacity using energy storage. Here we present an analysis of actual UK wind and solar generation for the whole of 2016 at 30 minute resolution and calculate the grid-scale storage requirement. In order to deliver 4.6 GW uniform and firm RE supply throughout the year, from 26 GW of installed capacity, requires 1.8 TWh of storage. We show that this is both thermodynamically and economically implausible to implement with current technology.


The Valhalla solar/pumped hydro project Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 27 Dec 2017

How Chile’s electricity sector can go 100% renewable Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 3 Jan 2018

If pumped hydro plants that use the sea as the lower reservoir can be put into large-scale operation Chile would be able to install at least 10 TWh of pumped hydro storage along its northern coast. With it Chile could convert enough intermittent solar into dispatchable form to replace all of its current fossil fuel generation, and at a levelized cost of electricity (provisionally estimated at around $80/MWh) that would be competitive with most other dispatchable generation sources. Northern Chile’s impressive pumped hydro potential is a result of the existence of natural depressions at elevations of 500m or more adjacent to the coast that can hold very large volumes of sea water and which form ready-made upper reservoirs.


How California’s electricity sector can go 100% renewable Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 17 Jan 2018

In my recent Chile post I outlined a plan under which Chile’s electricity sector could go 100% renewable by developing the pumped hydro storage potential of the Atacama Desert. In this post I consider whether California might not be able to do the same thing by developing the pumped hydro storage potential that exists just across the border in Northern Mexico. The conclusion is that it probably could, but not until California legislators recognize that megawatt-hour batteries will not supply the terawatt-hours of energy storage that will be needed to support an all-renewables grid, which so far they show no signs of doing.


Battery storage* in perspective – solving 1% of the problem Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 19 Feb 2018

The energy world is fixated on the “huge” amounts of battery storage presently being installed to back up slowly-increasing levels of intermittent renewables generation. The feeling seems to be that as soon as enough batteries are installed to take care of daily supply/demand imbalances we will no longer need conventional dispatchable energy – solar + wind + storage will be able to do it all. Here I take another look at the realities of the situation using what I hope are some telling visual examples of what battery storage will actually do for us. As discussed in previous posts it will get us no closer to the vision of a 100% renewables-powered world than we are now.
*Note: “Battery storage” covers all storage technologies currently being considered, including thermal, compressed air, pumped hydro etc. Batteries are, however, the flavor of the moment and are expected to capture the largest share of the future energy storage market.


Pumped hydro energy storage in Australia – Snowy 2.0 vs. sea water Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 12 Mar 2018

To support a 100% renewable electricity sector Australia will need approximately 10 terawatt-hours of long-term energy storage. The multi-billion-dollar Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project will supply only 0.35 terawatt-hours, a small fraction of this, and conventional pumped hydro potential elsewhere in Australia, including Tasmania, will not fill the gap. This post addresses the question of whether Australia might not do better to pursue sea water pumped hydro instead of Snowy 2.0-type projects. Sea water pumped hydro potential in Australia is limited by the lack of suitable coastal topography, but there are sites capable of storing very large amounts of sea water at distances of more than 20km from the coast. The question is whether these sites can be developed and operated at acceptable cost.

Demand Response

Why “demand response” won’t work Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 17 May 2018

Those who envision a world powered entirely by renewables assume that “demand response” will play a key role in matching intermittent generation to future demand. In this post I evaluate historic demand data from two quite different grids – Denmark and California – to determine what factors have affected demand there and how large these effects are. In both cases demand changes are closely correlated with rapidly rising electricity prices, but these have not resulted in significant demand reductions in Denmark or, arguably, any demand reductions at all in California. Attempts to flatten out California’s “duck curve” have also been unsuccessful despite punitive electricity rates during high-demand periods. The conclusion is that financial incentives and disincentives will not result in the levels of demand response necessary to support an all-renewables world.


How The Grid Works, & Why Renewables Can Dominate Christopher Arcus; CleanTechnica blog; 16 Dec 2015

Claims that high levels - though not not 100% - of renewables penetration could be achieved without significant storage.

The Environmentalist Case Against 100% Renewable Energy Plans JULIAN SPECTOR @JulianSpector; Citylab; 20 Jul 2015 (republished on Mother Jones as Why We Need Nuclear Power)

Leap Manifesto (Canadian)

Energy proposals based on Jacobson

Off Grid

Will solar panels and Tesla Powerwalls meet your home’s energy needs? Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 29 Nov 2017

Tesla is now marketing its Powerwall2 storage battery for domestic applications, claiming among other things that it can make your home self-powered and blackout-proof. Here I review Tesla’s claims using an existing rooftop PV array in the Arizona desert as a real-life example. Will a few Powerwalls allow the homeowner to go off-grid? Not a chance. Will they make the home blackout-proof? Maybe, maybe not. Will they save the homeowner money on his electricity bills? Not that I can see.
The example rooftop array is in Tucson, Arizona. I selected Tucson because if a solar-Powerwall2 combination won’t work there it won’t work anywhere in the US. Except for the area around Death Valley to the northwest the solar resource is about as good as it gets, the low (about 30%) seasonal solar range means that there is no large seasonal storage requirement and seasonal generation is not in antiphase to demand, as it is in some areas farther north

Going off-grid in the UK Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 6 Dec 2017

In my recent post featuring a residence in Tucson, Arizona (latitude 32 north) I found that no reasonable number of Tesla Powerwalls would allow the homeowner to go off-grid using a combination of solar and battery storage. In this post I review a residence in UK (latitude 52 north) and find, unsurprisingly, that its prospects for going off-grid with solar and Powerwalls are likewise non-existent. Further reviews show that the overgeneration approach does not work well in the UK either. The only presently-available option for a UK homeowner with a solar array who wants to go off grid is to combine solar with a backup generator.

More on going off-grid in UK Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 13 Dec 2017

In my previous Going off-grid post I reviewed the question of whether Tesla Powerwalls or overgeneration, considered separately, might allow a UK homeowner with a rooftop solar array to go off-grid. In this post I consider the two in combination. Once more using 10 Mossbank Way as an example I find that there are circumstances in which it might make marginal economic sense for Mossbank to install up to one Powerwall, but that again that there is no realistic combination of Powerwalls and overgeneration that would allow Mossbank to power itself year-round with solar alone. Going off-grid is again found to increase Mossbank’s electricity costs substantially no matter what combination of the two is adopted.

Critique of 100% renewables plans generally

Imperial College

Real-World Challenges with a Rapid Transition to 100% Renewable Power Systems Clara Franziska Heuberger, Niall Mac Dowell; Joule; 26 Feb 2018

Running on renewables: how sure can we be about the future? Hayley Dunning; Imperial College News; 6 Mar 2018

A variety of models predict the role renewables will play in 2050, but some may be over-optimistic, and should be used with caution, say researchers.
... researchers at Imperial College London have urged caution when basing future energy decisions on over-optimistic models that predict that the entire system could be run on renewables by the middle of this century.
Mathematical models are used to provide future estimates by taking into account factors such as the development and adoption of new technologies to predict how much of our energy demand can be met by certain energy mixes in 2050.
These models can then be used to produce ‘pathways’ that should ensure these targets are met – such as through identifying policies that support certain types of technologies.
However the models are only as good as the data and underlying physics they are based on, and some might not always reflect ‘real-world’ challenges. For example, some models do not consider power transmission, energy storage, or system operability requirements.

Now, in a paper published in the journal Joule, Imperial researchers have shown that studies that predict whole systems can run on near-100% renewable power by 2050 may be flawed as they do not sufficiently account for reliability of the supply.
Using data for the UK, the team tested a model for 100% power generation using only wind, water and solar (WWS) power by 2050. They found that the lack of firm and dispatchable ‘backup’ energy systems – such as nuclear or power plants equipped with carbon capture systems – means the power supply would fail often enough that the system would be deemed inoperable.
The team found that even if they added a small amount of backup nuclear and biomass energy, creating a 77% WWS system, around 9% of the annual UK demand could remain unmet, leading to considerable power outages and economic damage.
"...If a specific scenario relies on a combination of hypothetical and potentially socially challenging adaptation measures, in addition to disruptive technology breakthroughs, this begins to feel like wishful thinking."

Heard, Brook, Wigley & Bradshaw

Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems B.P. Heard, B.W. Brook, T.M.L. Wigley, C.J.A. Bradshaw; Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews; Volume 76, September 2017, Pages 1122–1133 [paywall]

An effective response to climate change demands rapid replacement of fossil carbon energy sources. This must occur concurrently with an ongoing rise in total global energy consumption. While many modelled scenarios have been published claiming to show that a 100% renewable electricity system is achievable, there is no empirical or historical evidence that demonstrates that such systems are in fact feasible. Of the studies published to date, 24 have forecast regional, national or global energy requirements at sufficient detail to be considered potentially credible. We critically review these studies using four novel feasibility criteria for reliable electricity systems needed to meet electricity demand this century. These criteria are: (1) consistency with mainstream energy-demand forecasts; (2) simulating supply to meet demand reliably at hourly, half-hourly, and five-minute timescales, with resilience to extreme climate events; (3) identifying necessary transmission and distribution requirements; and (4) maintaining the provision of essential ancillary services. Evaluated against these objective criteria, none of the 24 studies provides convincing evidence that these basic feasibility criteria can be met. Of a maximum possible unweighted feasibility score of seven, the highest score for any one study was four. Eight of 24 scenarios (33%) provided no form of system simulation. Twelve (50%) relied on unrealistic forecasts of energy demand. While four studies (17%; all regional) articulated transmission requirements, only two scenarios—drawn from the same study—addressed ancillary-service requirements. In addition to feasibility issues, the heavy reliance on exploitation of hydroelectricity and biomass raises concerns regarding environmental sustainability and social justice. Strong empirical evidence of feasibility must be demonstrated for any study that attempts to construct or model a low-carbon energy future based on any combination of low-carbon technology. On the basis of this review, efforts to date seem to have substantially underestimated the challenge and delayed the identification and implementation of effective and comprehensive decarbonization pathways.

The dream of 100% renewables assessed by Heard et al Roger Andrews; Energy Matters; 12 Apr 2017

Discussion of Heard et al paper


A beginner’s guide to the debate over 100% renewable energy Is it the right target? Is it even possible? David Roberts; Vox; 4 Apr 2017

Imagine powering civilization entirely with energy from renewable sources: wind, sun, water (hydroelectricity), naturally occurring heat (geothermal), and plants. No coal mines, oil wells, pipelines, or coal trains. No greenhouse gas emissions, car exhaust, or polluted streams. No wars over oil, dependence on foreign suppliers, or resource shortages.
Sounds nice, right?
A growing number of activists say it is within reach. The idea has inspired ambitious commitments from an increasing number of cities, including Madison, Wisconsin, San Diego, and Salt Lake City. Advocates are pushing states to support the goal. Clean-energy enthusiasts frequently claim that we can go bigger, that it’s possible for the whole world to run on renewables — we merely lack the “political will.” So, is it true? Do we know how get to an all-renewables system? Not yet. Not really. Current modeling strongly suggests that we will need a broader portfolio of low-carbon options, including nuclear and possibly coal or natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), to get deep cuts in carbon.

Is 100% renewable energy realistic? Here’s what we know. David Roberts; Vox; 7 Apr 2017

Reasons for skepticism, reasons for optimism, and some tentative conclusions.
Two potentially large sources of dispatchable carbon-free power are nuclear and fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Suffice it to say, a variety of people oppose one or both of those sources, for a variety of reasons. So then the question becomes, can we balance out VRE in a deeply decarbonized grid without them? Do our other dispatchable balancing options add up to something sufficient? That is the core of the dispute over 100 percent renewable energy: whether it is possible (or advisable) to decarbonize the grid without nuclear and CCS. In this post I’m going to discuss three papers that examine the subject, try to draw a few tentative conclusions, and issue a plea for open minds and flexibility.

Energiewende and Caliwende – the Heavy Cost of Ideology Seeker Blog; 17 Jan 2016

A Brave New World - deep decarbonisation of energy grids J.P.Morgan; 19 Oct 2015

we focus on Germany and its Energiewende plan (deep de-carbonization of the electricity grid in which 80% of demand is met by renewable energy), and on a California version we refer to as Caliwende. We compare these systems to the current electricity mix, and to a balanced system with a mix of renewable and nuclear energy
Our primary conclusions:
  • A critical part of any analysis of high-renewable systems is the cost of backup thermal power and/or storage needed to meet demand during periods of low renewable generation. These costs are substantial; as a result, levelized costs of wind and solar are not the right tools to use in assessing the total cost of a high-renewable system
  • Emissions. High-renewable grids reduce CO2 emissions by 65%-70% in Germany and 55%-60% in California vs. the current grid. Reason: backup thermal capacity is idle for much of the year
  • Costs. High-renewable grid costs per MWh are 1.9x the current system in Germany, and 1.5x in California. Costs fall to 1.6x in Germany and 1.2x in California assuming long-run “learning curve” declines in wind, solar and storage costs, higher nuclear plant costs and higher natural gas fuel costs
  • Storage. The cost of time-shifting surplus renewable generation via storage has fallen, but its cost, intermittent utilization and energy loss result in higher per MWh system costs when it is added
  • Nuclear. Balanced systems with nuclear power have lower estimated costs and CO2 emissions than high-renewable systems. However, there’s enormous uncertainty regarding the actual cost of nuclear power in the US and Europe, rendering balanced system assessments less reliable. Nuclear power is growing in Asia where plant costs are 20%-30% lower, but political, historical, economic, regulatory and cultural issues prevent these observations from being easily applied outside of Asia
  • Location and comparability. Germany and California rank in the top 70th and 90th percentiles with respect to their potential wind and solar energy (see Appendix I). However, actual wind and solar energy productivity is higher in California (i.e., higher capacity factors), which is the primary reason that Energiewende is more expensive per MWh than Caliwende. Regions without high quality wind and solar irradiation may find that grids dominated by renewable energy are more costly
  • What-ifs. National/cross-border grid expansion, storing electricity in electric car batteries, demand management and renewable energy overbuilding are often mentioned as ways of reducing the cost of high-renewable systems. However, each relies to some extent on conjecture, insufficient empirical support and/or incomplete assessments of related costs

The Climate Challenge: Can Renewables Really do it Alone? Josh Freed, Matt Bennett, Matt Goldberg; Third Way think-tank; 16 Dec 2015

tl;dr: no

Can You Make a Wind Turbine Without Fossil Fuels? Robert Wilson; Carbon Counter; 11 Jun 2015

fossil fuel requirements and CO2 emissions of steel & concrete production - relevant to nuclear etc also

Limitations of 'Renewable' Energy Leo Smith MA (Electrical sciences); (self-published)

  • Introduction
  • The three necessary concepts
  • What is energy and power density, and why is it important?
  • The important problem of intermittency
  • What is dispatch, and why is it important?
  • Nuclear power, dispatch and co-operation with intermittent renewables
  • Dispatching with hydro electricity or pumped storage
  • Dispatching with fossil fuelled power stations
  • Capacity factor, and cost benefit analysis
  • Where capacity factor originated
  • The cost of variability
  • Deriving costs of electrical generation
  • Costing mixed grids of medium intermittent renewable content
  • Indirect social, financial, resource and environmental costs of intermittency
  • The real economics of nuclear power.
  • Safety, waste disposal, and decommissioning
  • A pessimistic view?

Wind and Solar Power Advance, but Carbon Refuses to Retreat EDUARDO PORTER; N Y Times; 7 Nov 2017

... as climate diplomats gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd Conference of the Parties under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I would like to point their attention to a different, perhaps gloomier statistic: the world’s carbon intensity of energy.
The term refers to a measure of the amount of CO2 spewed into the air for each unit of energy consumed. It offers some bad news: It has not budged since that chilly autumn day in Kyoto 20 years ago. Even among the highly industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the carbon intensity of energy has declined by a paltry 4 percent since then, according to the International Energy Agency.
This statistic, alone, puts a big question mark over the strategies deployed around the world to replace fossil energy. In a nutshell: Perhaps renewables are not the answer.
Over the past 10 years, governments and private investors have collectively spent $2 trillion on infrastructure to draw electricity from the wind and the sun, according to estimates by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Environmental Progress, a nonprofit that advocates nuclear power as an essential tool in the battle against climate change, says that exceeds the total cost of all nuclear plants built to date or under construction, adjusted for inflation.
Capacity from renewable sources has grown by leaps and bounds, outpacing growth from all other sources — including coal, natural gas and nuclear power — in recent years. Solar and wind capacity installed in 2015 was more than 10 times what the International Energy Agency had forecast a decade before.
Still, except for very limited exceptions, all this wind and sun has not brought about much decarbonization. Indeed, it has not added much clean power to the grid.
Environmental Progress performed an analysis of the evolution of the carbon intensity of energy in 68 countries since 1965. It found no correlation between the additions of solar and wind power and the carbon intensity of energy: Despite additions of renewable capacity, carbon intensity remained flat.

Proportion clean energy hydro+nuclear v renewables by country NY Times.png

The $2.5 trillion reason we can’t rely on batteries to clean up the grid James Temple; MIT Technology Review; 27 Jul 2018

Fluctuating solar and wind power require lots of energy storage, and lithium-ion batteries seem like the obvious choice—but they are far too expensive to play a major role.

Resource requirements of renewables

Netherlands (Metabolic) study


The current global supply of several critical metals is insufficient to transition to a renewable energy system. Calculations for the Netherlands show that production of wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels already requires a significant share of the annual global production of some critical metals.Looking at the global scale, scenarios in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement require the global production of some metals to grow at least twelvefold towards 2050, compared to today’s output. Specifically, the demand for neodymium, terbium, indium, dysprosium, and praseodymium stands out. This calculation does not include the demand for these specific metals in other applications, such as electric vehicles or consumer electronics.

We Don't Mine Enough Rare Earth Metals to Replace Fossil Fuels With Renewable Energy Nafeez Ahmed; Vice Motherboard; 12 Dec 2018

Rare earth metals are used in solar panels and wind turbines—as well as electric cars and consumer electronics. We don't recycle them, and there's not enough to meet growing demand.
A new scientific study supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure warns that the renewable energy industry could be about to face a fundamental obstacle: shortages in the supply of rare metals.
To meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement, renewable energy production has to scale up fast. This means that global production of several rare earth minerals used in solar panels and wind turbines—especially neodymium, terbium, indium, dysprosium, and praseodymium—must grow twelvefold by 2050.
But according to the new study by Dutch energy systems company Metabolic, the “current global supply of several critical metals is insufficient to transition to a renewable energy system.”
The study focuses on demand for rare metals in the Netherlands and extrapolates this to develop a picture of how global trends are likely to develop.
“If the rest of the world would develop renewable electricity capacity at a comparable pace with the Netherlands, a considerable shortage would arise,” the study finds. This doesn’t include other applications of rare earth metals in other electronics industries (rare earth metals are widely used in smartphones, for example). “When other applications (such as electric vehicles) are also taken into consideration, the required amount of certain metals would further increase.”
Demand for rare metals is pitched to rise exponentially across the world, and not just due to renewables. Demand is most evident in “consumer electronics, military applications, and other technical equipment in industrial applications. The growth of the global middle class from 1 billion to 3 billion people will only further accelerate this growth.”
But the study did not account for those other industries. This means the actual problem could be far more intractable. In 2017, a study in Nature found that a range of minerals essential for smartphones, laptops, electric cars and even copper wiring could face supply shortages in coming decades.

Mineral supply for sustainable development requires resource governance Saleem H. Ali; Nature; 16 Mar 2017 (paywalled)

Successful delivery of the United Nations sustainable development goals and implementation of the Paris Agreement requires technologies that utilize a wide range of minerals in vast quantities. Metal recycling and technological change will contribute to sustaining supply, but mining must continue and grow for the foreseeable future to ensure that such minerals remain available to industry. New links are needed between existing institutional frameworks to oversee responsible sourcing of minerals, trajectories for mineral exploration, environmental practices, and consumer awareness of the effects of consumption. Here we present, through analysis of a comprehensive set of data and demand forecasts, an interdisciplinary perspective on how best to ensure ecologically viable continuity of global mineral supply over the coming decades.

Actual 100% renewable installations

See Small Renewables Projects