Mark Z. Jacobson
Mark Jacobson Jacobson is a Professor at Stanford University and a recognised expert on the effects on climate of aerosols - fine solid particles or liquid droplets suspended in the atmosphere.
Jacobson has since 2008 published papers advocating 100% renewables energy scenarios for the United States and, later, worldwide. His proposals have been enthusiastically received by politicians, celebrities and 'green' environmental organisations, but widely criticised by energy experts and commentators. The IPCC's Working Group 3 has assessed his work but found it unconvincing. Most notoriously when Renewables expert Christopher Clack and 20 others published a paper criticising and rebutting Jacobson's claims Jacobson responded by suing the National Academy of Sciences for publishing their paper, and Clack - the only author without institutional backing - personally for $10 Million. He withdrew his law suit immediately before it was due to be heard, leaving Clack several tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for his legal expenses.
- The Solutions Project founded by Jacobson to promote his work
- Jacobson's Wikipedia article: Jacobson has personally edited this page, counter to Wikipedia's rules, and in December 2017 was permanently blocked from Wikipedia for vanity editing.
- 1 Selected publications
- 1.1 2008 Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security
- 1.2 2010: Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power:
- 1.3 2015 Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes
- 1.4 2018 Plans for 139 countries
- 2 Rejection of Nuclear and CCS
- 3 Hurricanes
- 4 Commentary & criticisms of Jacobson et el
2008 Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security
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.
2010: Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power:
- Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials
- Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies Mark Z. Jacobson & Mark A. Delucchi; 2010
- These build on Jacobson's 2009 paper.
2015 Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes
- 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.
2018 Plans for 139 countries
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
Rejection of Nuclear and CCS
Jacobson rejects the use of nuclear energy and Carbon Capture and Storage, despite their being two of the three classes of low carbon energy IPCC working group 3's assessment find that we need more of for effective climate mitigation.
The reasons he give for rejecting nuclear energy are that he claims:
- that using nuclear energy will lead to the creation of new nuclear weapons which will result in nuclear wars causing cities to burn releasing CO
- that the time to build nuclear power plants results in "opportunity cost emissions due to planning-to-operation delays".
An article - "The 7 reasons why nuclear energy is not the answer to solve climate change" published on Leonardo Di Caprio's website and elsewhere states Jacobson's claims in this respect. The "7 reasons" article is a condensed version, without sources or calculations of his "Evaluation of Nuclear Power as a Proposed Solution to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security", which appears to be part of Jacobson's book 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything.
He also makes the same or similar claims in his 2008 paper Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security.
The claims made in these pieces are discussed in this site's editorial Mark Z. Jacobson's 7 reasons why nuclear energy is not the answer to solve climate change.
He rejects Carbon Capture and Storage because of claimed leakage of CO2 over a 500 year period.
Jacobson claims that offshore wind farms could reduce the strength of hurricaness.
Offshore wind farms could tame hurricanes before they reach land, Stanford-led study says BJORN CAREY; Stanford News; 26 Feb 2014
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.
Taming Hurricanes With Arrays of Offshore Wind Turbines Nature Climate Change, 2014
- links to paper, additional resources, video etc, and to other of Jacobson's works
thread by Seaver Wang on Twitter discussing Jacobson's claim that offshore wind turbines could reduce hurricane speeds
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.
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.
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 (220.127.116.11): “...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.
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.
Suing an academic critic isn’t only wrong, it’s also unjust Op-Ed by Danny Cullenward; The Stanford Daily; 29 Nov 2017
Stanford’s research is once again at the center of one of the hottest debates in clean energy policy – but this time, for all the wrong reasons.
Earlier this fall, leading atmospheric scientist and Stanford professor Mark Jacobson escalated an academic dispute out of the peer-reviewed literature and into the courtroom. In response to a critical article written by a group of highly regarded experts, he singled out and sued the only author who lacks the legal backing of an institutional employer. Litigation is always the wrong response to an academic debate, but is even worse in this case because Professor Jacobson has targeted a member of the research profession’s most vulnerable class.
The dispute concerns Professor Jacobson’s advocacy for the transformation of energy systems to 100 percent renewable energy, which he believes is feasible with today’s technology at a reasonable cost. His argument rose to national prominence in 2015 when he and several co-authors published a study in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Although the paper made headlines for Professor Jacobson and his nonprofit, The Solutions Project, its analysis met with incredulity in the research community, where many judged its technical claims to be implausible.
This summer, a group of 21 experts from Stanford, the University of California and other respected institutions published a response paper in PNAS. Led by Dr. Christopher Clack, an independent researcher based in Colorado, the authors argued that Professor Jacobson’s analysis contains errors and unrealistic assumptions that undermine its results. The ensuing debate spilled over into the media and on Twitter, with coverage from The Washington Post, The New York Times and other prominent outlets.
(Full disclosure: I took a great class from Professor Jacobson in graduate school and work closely with several authors on the response paper, including my former Stanford advisers, John Weyant and David Victor, as well as my current Carnegie Science colleague Ken Caldeira.)
Loud and even bitter fights aren’t uncommon in the academy, but what happened next is unprecedented: Professor Jacobson was so upset by the response paper and its media coverage that he filed a claim for libel in Washington, D.C., suing the National Academy of Sciences and Dr. Clack for $10 million.
This is a dangerous road. If researchers face lawsuits over peer-reviewed technical debates, any scientist working on a controversial topic could be silenced by the prospect of costly litigation. These risks are especially worrisome in politicized subjects like climate change, where prominent researchers have been subject to legal and character attacks from bad-faith actors who aim to disrupt scientists’ work or its public credulity. Society needs a vigorous debate among experts over how best to manage the clean energy transition, not litigation that challenges the integrity of the broader scientific enterprise. Academic disagreements simply have no place in the courtroom.
Professor Jacobson’s litigation has chilling effects beyond its caustic impact on the clean energy policy conversation. His lawsuit also exploits the professional research community’s inequities by targeting the only author without the institutional means to defend himself.
Rather than bring claims against all 21 of the authors of the response paper, Professor Jacobson sued only the National Academy of Sciences and Dr. Clack, a former postdoc turned proprietor of a renewable energy consulting business. Unlike his co-authors, Dr. Clack does not work for a research institution whose legal team could defend its employee in court, and because his legal interests as author are distinct from those of the National Academy as publisher, he cannot rely on the Academy’s lawyers to make his defense. Instead, Dr. Clack has to hire his own attorney, a major expense that could financially devastate anyone without a trust fund – even if the case is quickly dismissed.
In short, a world-famous tenured professor – in response to a peer-reviewed paper criticizing his work – has threatened to financially ruin an independent researcher. Whatever concerns Professor Jacobson has with Dr. Clack, this tactic unfairly puts the most vulnerable members of an already highly unequal profession at great risk. That’s an unacceptable burden to place on researchers who are just starting their careers or who, like Dr. Clack, are pursuing entrepreneurial paths off the tenure line.
There’s an old saying that academic politics are vicious because the stakes are so low. But when a tenured professor escalates an academic debate into a lawsuit that threatens a critic’s livelihood, nothing could be further from the truth.
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 The 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):
- Deconstructing the 100% Fossil Fuel Free Wind, Water and Sunlight USA paper
- Part I Why no nuclear power? 16 Jun 2015
- 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.
- Part III Issues with energy storage 27 Nov 2015
- 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
Conley & Maloney / 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.
Jani-Petri Martikainen ("a physicist with a keen interest on science and environmental and energy issues") PassiiviIdentiteetti blog:
- Part 1: Why does Mark Jacobson hate Finland? 2 Jan 2016
- Part 2: He also hates Ethiopians? 3 Jan 2016
- Part 3: Jacobson and weirdness with storage 16 Jan 2016
David Roberts / Vox
Here's what it would take for the US to run on 100% renewable energy David Roberts; Vox; 2015
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) (local copy)
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) (local copy)
"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) Rod Adams; Atomic Insights; 2016
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.”
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.