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Another Blueprint for 100 Percent Renewables by Mid-Century

Herman Trabish's picture
, Greentech Media

Herman K. Trabish, D.C., was a Doctor of Chiropractic in private practice for two decades but finally realized his strategy to fix the planet one person at a time was moving too slowly. An...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Mar 13, 2014

The clean energy sector is awash in scenarios that suggest that 100 percent of our energy needs can be met with renewables. While the realities of implementation are far more difficult than the reports suggest, these models can serve as a helpful exercise in imagining what is possible.

Stanford professor Mark Jacobson has recently released some new calculations. He concludes that, by 2050, onshore and offshore wind, utility-scale and rooftop PV, concentrated solar power, geothermal, wave, tidal and conventional hydropower can meet 100 percent of U.S. energy demand.

To get there, all new generation must come from what Jacobson calls the wind, water and sunlight (WWS) electric power technologies by 2020, according to The Solutions Project study. At least 80 percent of existing energy must then be replaced by WWS by 2030 for the U.S. to reach 100 percent renewables by 2050.

“Every new power plant should be a clean renewables plant,” Jacobson said. “If every new car sold today was an EV, in fifteen years almost every car would be electric.”

On average, renewables plus achievable energy efficiency could cut total energy demand 37.3 percent, the study concludes. Over 85 percent of that would be from electricity use. The build-out would take about 0.65 percent of U.S. land, according to the scenario.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs), and hybrids would make up the transportation fleet in 2050; the hydrogen would only be produced from WWS-generated electricity; trucks and buses could be hybrid BEV-HFCVs or pure HFCVs. Jacobson said buses could be solely BEVs if fast battery swapping or supercharging becomes available.

Jacobson’s conclusions are similar to the findings of work done by University of Delaware researchers in 2012.

The plan eliminates nuclear energy because of its energy intensity and time horizons. According to Jacobson’s analysis, the fossil fuels used in mining and uranium refining are nine to 25 times the amount used by wind energy per unit energy produced. In addition, a nuclear facility takes ten to nineteen years to get into operation, while WWS projects take only two to five years.

Liquid biofuels are not included because “the effective cost of a liquid biofuel is four to five times that of the electric power needed to move an electric car the same distance.”

The resource mix would be different state by state, as reflected in studies focusing on California, New York, and Washington and by an interactive U.S. map created for the new report.

The California mix is 55 percent solar and 35 percent wind, Jacobson said. The bulk of the solar would be commercial, industrial and government-scale installations and utility-scale projects. Another 10 percent would come from residential rooftops.

“That requires 19 million systems averaging 5 kilowatts each. But there are only 11.5 million residential rooftops of all kinds, including single and multiple unit structures. By 2050, there will probably be 17 million,” Jacobson said. “The bottom line is that we are saturating the rooftops, especially because not all homes will accommodate systems.”

Also, he added, rooftop solar is presently more expensive than utility-scale solar. “But our plan is flexible. If that changes, there can be more rooftop solar. We have laid out just one scenario. Others are possible, as long as they are based on wind, water, and solar.”

Jacobson’s work includes a list of recommended policies that would support getting to 100 percent renewables, but leaves the final decisions and options up to each state’s leadership.

Nationally, the plan would create an estimated 5.1 million construction jobs and 2.6 million permanent annual jobs. “We are extremely confident there will be net job gain nationally because jobs in renewables are local,” Jacobson said. “Solar construction produces far more jobs per kilowatt-hour than traditional generation.”

Jacobson’s projections for 2030 suggest that the cost advantages will go to renewables. The levelized cost of energy for WWS technologies are expected to be $0.07 to $0.11 per kilowatt-hour, including the cost of local new transmission, Jacobson’s research concludes. Fossil fuel LCOE projections fall in the $0.12 to $0.16 per kilowatt-hour range, excluding externalities.

The cost of new long-distance transmission is projected to be $0.01 per kilowatt-hour for HVDC lines of between 1,200 and 2,000 kilometers.  

“Because the fuel costs of fossil fuels rise over time, whereas the fuel costs of WWS energy resources are zero, WWS energy in 2050 will save the average U.S. consumer $3,400 per year compared with the 2050 energy cost of fossil fuels,” concludes the study.

To get to these savings, aggressive policies need to be put in place immediately, Jacobson said. When the prices come down, the policy impacts can be reduced.

“This is technically and economically feasible,” Jacobson said. “It just requires overcoming political barriers. People can do things like using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, weatherizing, buying an electric car, and putting solar on their roofs. They can also push their local governments for policies that help form their energy future.” 

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Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 13, 2014

” It’s 2013, almost 4 decades after Amory Lovins told us (1976) that so called “renewable energy” would be providing huge amounts of energy in the United States.    Why then is so much gas being drilled?”

1976 was a decade when both democrats and republicans agreed that sustainable, domestic energy made sense.  Through bi-partisan programs our country proved the technical feasibility of renewable energy, wind and solar.  Reagan promptly threw cold water on the whole thing, before we could scale it, setting us back decades. 

When Japan and then Germany took leadership in the 1990’s we saw possibilities and the experience curves for both solar and wind (and more recently, storage) were shown to be very predictive and prices have dropped as the volumes have increased.  Cumulative doublings when the volumes were in the megawatt range, of course gave voice to people saying that renewables were a negligible contributor since they barely showed up in the energy picture.  Fortunately, countries guided by people who could do math and understood the difference between a linear and exponential growth kept the fires burning.  And the torch got passed around, Japan, Germany, Spain, Italy, now China is leading the way and the US still has our pinky toe in the game. 

Now we are at a point where costs have come down dramatically and Wall Street as well as the utility industry are waking up to the fact that renewables are now players and relevant.  Now as electrical energy  price parity is approaching, the shrill chorus of fossil fuel apologists can be heard building with their last hold out.  ‘Renewables are so terribly intermittent that they cannot possibly play a significant roll.’  ‘It is impossible for storage to be brought down in price enough to address intermittency’, ‘aggregating renewables with supergrids to reduce intermittency cannot work, things have to stay exactly as they are’.    And on it goes.  But it is coming and the pace is accelerating.  

Will it happen on Al Gore’s timescale?  No.  By 2050? – For sure huge progress can be made.  I see it as doable for industrialized as well as rapidly industrializing nations.  In fact it is conspicuous that so many fossil fuel apologists, masquerading as objective authorities, talk about what a terrible capital imposition we place on developing countries by suggesting renewables and then they conveniently neglect to include the cost of grid build-out as they compare the two.  

Is Jacobson a little out there?  Sure.  He is but one voice who happens to captivate the press.  He serves the valuable purpose of stimulating out-of-the-box thinking and healthy dialog which is so important in finding solutions to the international issues related to energy.




Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 13, 2014

Herman, a few questions:

1) Is Mark still including the carbon fallout of incinerated cities, due to a nuclear holocaust, in his calculation of nuclear’s carbon footprint?

2) Do the renewables faithful continue to cite this crackpot because at least he’s a tenured one at Stanford?

3) Is it possible Mark and the other few antinuclear zealots with university credentials profit handsomely by telling a lot of people what they want to hear, whether it’s true or not?


Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 13, 2014

About those lanthanide miners in China, I keep hoping you will do a post on the comparison between them and coal miners. 

Also, I think we are ramping up the closed down rare earth’s mine in CA so it hits closer to home.  I don’t think anyone has found an energy source that does not have some negative impacts.  The question, of course, is the relative scale.  If the lanthanide mines are of comparable scale to coal then we have a problem.  If they are 100th the scale then it is a pretty good trade. 

It reminds me of all the news about Tesla’s catching fire.  I think we are up to 5 now.  It was all over the press.  It was all pretty dramatic until someone figured out that there are 200,000 car fires annually in this country.  All of a sudden it was non-news.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 13, 2014

I think that much of the value we have gained from the money spent on renewables has been to bring the cost down. 

To parry your nuclear example which appears to be for the installation of 125GW of nuclear, I would favor the installation of the energy equivalent electrical generation capacity in wind to be installed in KS and NE where there are geograpically concentrated areas with wind a CF of 50% and higher.  Using a VERY conservative figure of $2.00 / W for wind power and $1B per GW for transmission from great plains to the east coast.  So to be equivalent to your numbers we would need 250 GW of wind power and HVDC transmission capacity of 250GW.  Throw in another $100B for upgrades on the east coast to cover various adaptations to this new capacity.  That gets us to $850B leaving 300B for new peaking capacity or, preferably, build-out of smart grid for time of use metering so that people are incentivized to adapt to price spikes, thus further reducing need for backup.  Also, with this amount of additional power, natural gas prices would be kept low due to reduced demand.  The extra money could be spent on energy efficiency to reduce building demand further lowering gas prices and cutting even more into your Exajoule budget.  Maybe use only $150B for smart grid and allocate $150 B for offshore wind has great capacity factor and which is decorrelated from the midwest wind.  This would allow system planners to assign even higher capacity credit to the wind power, reducing the need for backup and for gas.   

The wind number is extremely conservative because a plan to install that much wind power (essentially doubling todays world capacity) in a geographically concentrated area would lead to state of the art factories being built near the locations.   Labor is inexpensive and the roads are flat and not heavily travelled so moving the components would be comparatively inexpensive.  Wind related infrastructure such as cranes, would be geograpically concentrated leading to further efficiencies (less transportation time, more time in service).  This would lead to dramatic reduction in the cost of turbines, installation and maintenance.  This would provide scaling economies in addition to simply experience curve gains.  So it is hard for me to imagine that we wouldn’t see $1.00 / Watt. 

I think you could make a similar case for scaling nuclear with modern reactors so you would see similar cost reductions there.  

In any event, the point is, with renewable energy, we are moving rapidly down the experience curve and so the impact of the last batch of money feeds forward in reducing the cost of the next batch.  It is not just about the exajoules purchased but about the cost reduction purchased.  Many folks are not recognizing that many who favor subsidies are looking at them to stimulate demand to get these technologies further down their experience curves.


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 14, 2014

Did I not see storage? I thought the “water” meant like total pumped hydro to store the energy from the vast overbuild necessary!

When wind and solar reach max grid, even more NG will be used as back up (because it is cheaper than overbuild + massive storage). Problem with that is the cold starts. Much less expensive would be wind, solar, NG and (meltdown proof) nuclear. 

Solution: Use the nuclear at about half of rated turbine max to replace ALL coal. The wind and solar would fill in the other half or so until they “stop” or slow down, then whatever amounts of NG can be efficiently added to the nuke powered gas turbines for back up. Note, that this requires the high temp, meltdown proof nukes and that this most efficient use of NG vastly reduces CO2 emissions over a “just renewables and NG only” world.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Mar 14, 2014

Well, no. Let’s do everything the way you say, and put up 250 GW of wind turbines in Nebraska, all in ideal locations where the CF is 50%.

What happens when the wind doesn’t blow in Nebraska? That $1 billion you spent on transmission lines just goes to waste, and the lights go out in Boston.

And what happens when the wind DOES blow in Nebraska, producing 250 GW, and the load on the east coast is only 125 GW? Then you curtail production from half your wind turbines (or curtail the production from all your wind turbines by half), and suddenly your 50% CF goes down the drain, big time. And your LCOE goes up by comparable amounts.

The real world, and the real weather, doesn’t work the way you think it does. Wind blows when it wants to, not when we need the power. Wind stops when it wants to, and not when we don’t need the power any more.

Which means that in the real world, you will need *way* more than 250 GW wind turbines to replace 125 GW of dispatchable nuclear, even at high CFs. And you also have to allow for the fact that wind turbines last 22 years (Denmark average) while nuclear plants last 50 years or more. Which means you have to build your wind farm twice over compared to nuclear.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Mar 14, 2014

The dishonest thing about Jacobson’s hype is that in order to achieve “100% renewable” energy, the US has to use about 40% less than we’re using now. In other words, it’s actually about 60% renewable compared to current usage. (See his project’s website at for specifics.)

The idea that this is achievable via efficiency is untrue due to the Jevons effect. Thus it could only be achieved via conservation, and in economic terms the only way to get that much conservation is if the price of energy increases by many times current prices — a scenario that implies economic disaster on a massive scale. (The Great Recession of ’08-’09 reduced US primary energy consumption by 7% and cost 3% of GDP.)

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 14, 2014

the shrill chorus of fossil fuel apologists can be heard…”

I would not know about that.  But among environmentalists, the real question is whether we should follow the guidance of scientist who say that we should use all four solutions (efficiency, renewables, nuclear, and CC&S), or follow what is essentially an ideology that says that essentially renewables are the only acceptable solution.

The frustrating thing is that in the popular press, and in much of the environmental writings, anti-nuclear bumper-sticker slogans from non-experts (like Jacobson, who’s specialty is actually civil and environmental engineering, not energy systems) are repeated as though they were facts, when they completely conflict with what the nuclear experts say, what the utilities say, and what the government energy analysts say.

I carefully reviewed Jacobson-Hoste-Dvorak WWS paper from 2009?, which focused on California.  They declared 100% renewable success in the abstract, but buried this important assumption near the end: “Our analysis is performed only for the average day in each month. By averaging demands, wind speeds, and insolations over the month, we are removing much of the fine variability in output that worries grid operators the most.”  Needless to say, this struck me as exceptionally dishonest.

California and Texas are uniquely suited to renewables too.  Considering the much more pessamistic assessment of the more densely populated part of the world in references like David MaKay’s book (see chapter 30), its astounding that these 100% renewable plans are taken seriously.

The fact is that the only major electrical systems in existence today which are substantially free of fossil fuels, are those in France, Sweden, and Switzerland, and they rely on a mix of nuclear and hydro.  Any plan which ignores either of these energy sources must be regarded as “risky” at best, and “dangerously reckless” at worst.

As to the recent exponential growth of solar and wind, the observed data are completely consistent with my claim that they are growing towards a penetration of 20-30%, not 100% as is optimistically assumed by proponents.  With capacity factors of typically 20-30%, this penetration is a natural stopping point where the economics will substantially degrade.  Apparently, the natural gas industry agrees that renewables are not a threat to them, and have embraced solar and wind as  tools with which to help take market share from nuclear and coal.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 14, 2014

For the most part I agree with you.  I take Jacobson with a grain of salt.  My read of the popular press is that they are pulling from a broad spectrum of commentary.  I don’t see the press gravitating to him as their goto guy. 

I will keep working on you regarding your thinking about 20% – 30% being the max for wind.  The majority of the wind capacity in the country is off shore and in the central great plains.  Off shore the CFs are in the mid 40’s.  The current average in the great plains is 37% CF.  Much of the siting has been based upon load proximity and transmission access.  There are areas that are ideal in every sense except they do not currently have transmission access.  If we opt to build HVDC transmission access to these areas then 50% CF wind is available in great abundance.  So if we want to do it, we can get higher penetrations but only if we opt to build the transmission access. 


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 14, 2014

Yep. I believe the rare earths are very necessary (and not rare). It’s just a shame that China has little or no workers safety concerns. I agree that there is NO way that rare earths mining could ever cause anywhere close to the damage that coal does because, coal is just a “once through” whereas the product from rare earths are a “once per many years” through (and then can be recycled and doesn’t emit anywhere near the excess CO2)!

Closed cycle meltdown proof nuclear is mandatory, in order to provide a reliable and somewhat load following baseload (necessary to charge up billions of li-ion batteries needed to power the motors made from neodymium). The LiFePO4 battery, although slightly less energy dense, has NO thermal issues and has about 4x the cycle life as the li-ion.

Kinda like the wind idea but it would be intrinsically more expensive because it requires more materials per unit of capacity build up (at least it seems to be that a thousand 1MW turbines would require more material than a 1GW advanced molten salt reactor). They also need to be made to operate “24/7”, somehow.


donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Mar 14, 2014

I believe that that report only includes investments and not subsidies on top. Is that the case?


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 14, 2014

Do wind and solar provide as much energy as 1.27 trillion dollars worth of nuclear plants would have provided using 1970’s technology?”

Those unsafe NPP’s parasitize greatly on huge invisible subsidies, invisible paid for by the innocent citizen and governments until
disaster strikes or
the radio-active waste has to be taken care of.

Such as the huge liability limitations, so they are only liable for 0.001% of the damage they may create.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 14, 2014

… has no idea about the lives of lanthanide miners…
The new generation of big wind turbines will not contain permanent magnets, so no lanthanide.
Neither a gearbox, so far less maintenance.

Even complicated machines as big airliners now run up to 60years.
So little doubt that such simple machines as wind turbines can be constructed lasting 100years.
The wind mill near my house in NL is already ~400 years old and still operates.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 14, 2014

David Mackay makes many huge mistakes in his calculations.
You cannot take his calculations serious.
An example from his book:

1. “…Most places are sunnier than the UK, so solar panels would deliver more power in continental Europe. 10 m2 of roof-mounted photovoltaic panels would deliver about 7 kWh/d in all places south of the UK…
A 200W/m2 solar panel delivers here in NL (not really south of UK), ~2MWh per year. That is 5.5KWh/d per square meter. That is ~8 times more than he calculates….

2. Furthermore he does not take into account the continuing improvement in yields. Now 21.5% for up to date panels (check Sunpower X-series), new panels are announced (for 2015) that have a yield of 24%.

Long term, the yield improves with ~0.5%/year already many years.
That will not stop soon. E.g. the Dutch solar car that won the N-S Australia race, had some panels with 40% yield…
Theoretically, multi-junction cells can have a yield of ~70%, which is 650W/m2.

There are similar wrong calculations in his book.

So it is a nice presenter with little technical/physics know how, who presents partly nonsense.
The issue is that he doesn’t seem to realize his limits (or he chosed incompetent advisors / consultants).

Ed Dodge's picture
Ed Dodge on Mar 14, 2014

Jacobson is a fraud.  I wrote about his New York plan here:

I’m all for implementing as much renewables as makes sense, but the notion that we can simply displace hydrocarbons (and nuclear) completely is without merit.  He offers no actual real world performance measures of anything.  All he has is a bunch of Excel spreadsheets, not functional engineering designs.  There are so many holes in his model it is difficult to know where to begin. 

You may notice that no respected engineering firms or energy industry leaders endorse these plans.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 14, 2014

So flat Denmark has accepted a firm scenario that delivers:
 – 50% of all electricity (MWh) delivered by wind in 2020 (now ~35%)
 – 100% of all electricity delivered by renewable in 2040
 – 100% of all energy delivered by renewable in 2050

Suggest you study the Danish scenario plans (my Danish is rather bad).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 14, 2014


The issue is that wind and solar will often deliver >100% of all electricity needed, even if the price is only $1/MWh.
E.g. In Denmark in 2020, wind alone will produce 100% of all electricity needed during ~30% of the time (~100days of 365days).

So what do you then do with nuclear that cannot down regulate below 50%?
Continue production, which creates more losses for the NPP?

How can a NPP compete in such environment (with whole sale price $1/MWh during 30% of the time) against fast up- and deep down regulating fluidized bed coal plants, or gas turbines?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 14, 2014

When I say 20-30% max, I’m talking about the whole US and the world.  No doubt there will be small hot spots (like Western Kansas or the Sahara desert) that exceed 300%, and even large “success stories” like Germany or the Western US wherein penetration may reach 60%,

But I continue to see no evidence that people in densely populated or resource-poor regions will agree to import the majority of their electricity via HVDC.  As you often say, it makes economic sense today, but apparently is being rejected (although I understand that Canada has some long lines to bring in some very low cost hydro).  My guess is that the problem is a combination of the political benefits of local job creation (which favors local generation) and that the economics of renewables (with fossil backup) are not really as great (compared to fossil fuels) as is claimed by proponents.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 14, 2014

Yes, this is a quite disturbing phenomenon.  The people in the “solar optimists club” have their own set of facts and data, that don’t agree with that from anyone outside of the club. The differences are especially stark when future forecasts are involved (which is hard even when strong biases are not present).  

Yes, MacKay is pessimistic about future solar-to-electric conversion “efficiency” (which is what I assume you mean when you say “yield”); as I recall, his argument is that industry will follow lowest cost, which may or may not correlate with highest efficiency.  But in MacKay’s defense, I would note that as of today, the low efficiency (11%) thin film modules do seem to have more market share than the high efficiency (20%)  mono-crystallin types.  And as I have mentioned, there is absolutely no progress in bringing the super high cost triple junctional 40% efficient space-grade technology down to earth for flat-panel arrays, and the CPV guys that do use triple junction have nearly zero market share (CPV pioneer Amonix went bankrupt).

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Mar 14, 2014



Coke is required for steel productions both as a chemical reductant and as a fuel source. So Demark are moving to no steel then?

Further they have yet to instigate a large and viable service to compete with petrol and diesel transport?

They suggest that coal will be replaced by biomass at power stations. Pray where will tht biomass be grown?

Until they have actually proven especially the second point, there will be large issues to resolve. 

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Mar 14, 2014

A 200W/m2 solar panel delivers here in NL (not really south of UK), ~2MWh per year. That is 5.5KWh/d per square meter. That is ~8 times more than he calculates..”

Of course it is. Because you are using an optimistic peak value whereas he is using an average value for the whole year. What is the kWh/dm2 for October? December? Funnily enough most sources do not rate the solar irradiance as high as you do; 5 is the limit for most sources I have seen for the Netherlands.

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on Mar 14, 2014

Since there are 8760 hours in a year, a 200 W source at 100% CF produces 200 * 8760 = 1,752,000 Watt-hours in a year, or 1.7 MWh. So your solar panel has a capacity factor of 114%?? I suppose it’s just possible that it’s never cloudy in Amsterdam, but I’m willing to bet that it’s night there from time to time.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Mar 14, 2014


I agree with you, but I must remind you that when I pointed out obvious holes in something you wrote you behaved no better than Jacobson does when people point out the holes in his schemes. Perhaps the pot should not be communicating with the kettle.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Mar 14, 2014


This is completely wrong. US per capita energy consumption is two times higher than it is in Britain, Germany, Japan or any number of other countries. The idea that an economic disaster is needed to reduce US per capita energy consumption to the level of Germany is total nonsense.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 14, 2014

Robert, without defending Americans’ energy consumption, from a practical standpoint I have to agree with Keith.

America was built on cheap energy. It goes beyond a cultural distinction; our infrastructure and the very dimensions of our communities are a product of that. While I don’t agree that a 40% reduction in our energy use would necessarily result in “economic disaster”, it will be realistically impossible to muster the public/political will to gain those kinds of improvements through efficiency or conservation.

10 – 15% is possible, it’s helpful, but it’s not enough. For that reason we should be looking to robust, zero-carbon energy sources – take advantage of what’s possible, and acknowledge what’s not.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 14, 2014

“it could only be achieved via conservation”

It is pretty rare that there is only one way to address a problem.  Wikipedia has a nice write-up on the Jevons paradox that includes this:

“The Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation may be futile, as increased efficiency may increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use declines if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax or other conservation policies that keep the cost of use the same (or higher).[3] As the Jevons paradox applies only to technological improvements that increase fuel efficiency, policies that impose conservation standards and increase costs do not display the paradox.”

So a Pigovian tax that feeds forward into technology development or deployment could accelerate reduction of energy consumption while being stimulative to the economy.


Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 14, 2014


you are absolutely right.  Intermittency is a very important consideration and the topic of much debate and many studies.  However my comment was specifically directed at a hypothetical presented by N Nadir that simplified the problem and put it in terms of energy only without considering the added variable of intermittency. 

The structure of our conversation was that he presented a hypothetical, with simplifying assumptions, which if correct, negated the need to add intermittency into the discussion.  I countered with a hypothetical that showed addressed his consideration.  So now we can get back to our regularly scheduled program.

Having said that, grid operators generally assign intermittants a capacity credit.  Wind from geographically decoupled regions, say, NE, KS and off shore in the atlantic, all with CF in the range of 50% will have MUCH higher capacity credits when you look at individual wind farms or even clusters of windfarms restricted to the east coast with 25% CF.  It is a much, much different animal.  Studies such as EWITS, that are done in partnership with the grid operators, have shown that 30% penetration is practical using data that averages to about 40% CF.  Bumping it up to 50% is a pretty dramatic improvement and would allow much higher capacity credits.


Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 14, 2014

“Yes, this is a quite disturbing phenomenon.  The people in the “solar optimists club” have their own set of facts and data, “

 “(11%) thin film modules do seem to have more market share than the high efficiency (20%)  mono-crystallin types.”



Yes and what is the name of your club?


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014


I think that bio-mass will be used less and less, as Germany also plans.
It is expensive (more than wind) and has the obvious disadvantage that it saves less CO2 (only similar level as nuclear).

They will move into synthetic fuel/gas (same as Germany).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014

So even France is now converting to these “very expensive failures”.
France does operate quite a number of fossil power plants.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014

You are right, I made an error in my hurry. Sorry.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 15, 2014

Ok, I’ll back-pedal and say I don’t know the relative market share of thin-film and crystalline PV (although the stock links you provided support my anecdotal observation that they appear to both be thriving, unlike CPV using triple junction).  The US solar industry group SEIA seems be putting all of the recent market share data behind a pay wall.

I consider myself a “sustainable energy enthusiast”.  It’s a bit more all-incompassing and inclusive than solar or renewable, but still completely pro-environment.  I propably should not have singled out advocates of a particular technology for excess optimism/exageration; I think more often it’s really the opponents of technologies that tend to distort data the most.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 15, 2014

I think I get a little prickly when I see labeling happening particularly when I feel I am part of the group being labelled and the characterization misrepresents my position.  I am definitely a solar optimist but I make a strong effort to remain objective and to support my positions with verifiable facts.  I do understand that there are some loud voices who think we can just keep putting up solar and its problem solved.  And clearly that is that naive subgroup you are castigating.  However those folks exist for every position, from pro nuc folks who think we should have nuclear powered tooth brushes to fossil fuel advocates who believe we can keep doing it the way we always have and nothing will change. 


I would love to see people on this board cease this labeling thing that has been going on.  Each camp has important things to bring to the party.  To label a position, single out the outliers and then suggest that they represent the more mainstream elements of that position undermines constructive dialog. 

I guess guys like Jacobson may do more harm through polarization than good through helping people think out of the box.  No doubt he gets people talking.  But in the end does it lead to progress or does it lead to polarization that impeades constructive dialog. . . hard to say. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014

Nathan,I’m puzzled.

I think USA should reach an higher share as:
1. it has not the burden of the old expensive wind+solar installations. Remember until 2009, German FiT for solar was in the 30-50cent/KWh range with a guarantee for 20years.
Now FiT’s are in the 9-13cent/KWh range going down with ~10%/yr, so in 2023 those are ~5cent.
That implies little additional costs (Energiewende levy near zero).

2. USA is far more south than Germany, hence PV-panels should deliver more electricity per $. Especially since Germany and USA install the same Chinese panels.

Btw. Fundamental new PV solar developments are not over.
New, <0.001 millimetre thick, thin films, have reached 15-19% yields. Those are based on the cheap perovskite. As no high temperatures involved, the film can be glued to plastic (PET) sheets (Nature Photonics, 22 Dec. 2013).  They offer potential to produce for <2cent/KWh.

3. USA has large areas with far more favorable wind conditions compared to Germany.
So wind may easily reach 3-4cent/KWh.

Why do you estimate that wind+solar penetration in Germany may reach 60%, and not in the USA?
I think, that penetration in USA should become higher than Germany, due to the more favorable circumstances.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Mar 15, 2014

Regarding biomass, then what you think now is at odds with Denmark’s current policy and that is disappointing as you were trying to use Denmark in order to counter an earlier point.

Ed Dodge's picture
Ed Dodge on Mar 15, 2014


I believe it is extremely important to find marketable, practical uses for CO2 in order to finance CCS broadly.  I am continuing to pursue these pathways even if my calculations today are not satisfactory to you. 

As I remember you objected to my headline, not the substance of my argument, and I noticed plenty of criticisms of some of your recent headlines as well.  But debates over grammer are silly when there are much bigger problems to worry about.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 15, 2014

We are literally based on using more energy. California, for example has so many suburbs which “require” people to drive more, whilst states like Wisconsin “require” people to use more heat to prevent freezing. Uprooting how people live will take much more effort than “simply” taking care of the energy problem.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 15, 2014

I already pointed out that nuclear can be made to be load following.

I don’t have time right now, buut search load following nuclear, France and molten salt reactor. I believe the fast reactors are somewhat load following as well.

Now, a 100% solar and wind scenario “requires” lots of natural gas for back up (until a massive 100% storage is also built which is absurdidly expensive). So, what’s better, cold NG starts for backing up the renewables, or efficient NG add-in to the already hot nuclear powered turbines.

I know my suggestion of molten salt reactors coupled with NG is rather far fetched from a real world POV, but so is 100% renewables. However, if we are to use nuclear to greatly supplement the renewables, shouldn’t we at least do it in the safest way? Because it will take the least expensive, most abundant source to fix this excess CO2 problem.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Mar 15, 2014

Well then nothing will change and Roberts recent articles are for nought?

Its not a Us issue either. A UK study questioning people done recently clearly put the balance of responsibilities away from the people and toward the government. I believe that climate issues are far and away a sociological one rather than a tech one and the solutions while derived from both, will depend primarily on the former.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014

“...100% solar and wind scenario “requires” lots of natural gas for back up (until a massive 100% storage…
That idea does not fit with the debated scenario’s in Denmark and Germany.
They prefer a mix, as it is not sure yet what is best or will deliver best price/preformance ratio.

The main components:

– battery storage by rooftop PV-panel owners

– pumped storage & flexible hydro (Germany had plans to install a dozen more pumped storage facilities, but all plans were shelved as new scenario studies show that the existing ~35 pumped storage facilities will not become profitable before 2025 (=50-60% renewable). At that time battery storage may be cheaper;

– electricity to gas (injected in the natural gas pipe system that covers the country)

– electricity to (car) fuel

– mixtures of waste & renewable generated gas/fuel to burn in flexible fluidized bed power plants (= the plants build in the past years in Germany).

This last option resembles nuclear. Realize that predictions are that those power plants will run only ~50% of the time, as during the other 50% wind+solar will produce more than needed.
I do not see a positive business case for a NPP in that situation. Especially not since idea’s of the incumbent utilities about capacity payments are not well received (not necessary at all to do, etc).
But may be you can explain?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 15, 2014

Therefore, the least expensive solutions will have to be developed in order to fit within the confines of the socialogical, thus, these talks are not for nought, as we need to collaborate on the best ways to tackle the excess CO2 (and pollution) problems. In fact, I believe that it is awareness of the solutions that will be the ONLY hope.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 15, 2014

The object is to completely replace coal. So, you’re saying that we can completely displace coal, without nuclear baseload? I don’t have any evidence for that, in fact, I believe even Germany has to build more coal.

I would prefer not to use natural gas but realize that it will be needed, especially when the renewables reach “max grid” (because it is cheaper than all the storage options). At least it emits less than half of the CO2 as coal (per unit of energy in an efficient turbine) and is used only for peak (furthering CO2 reductions).

I’m not familar with fluidixed bed reactors. I believe they use coal, which is exactly what we’re trying to displace. If it is nuclear, it is best not to “go with it” unless it is an inherently safe (meltdown proof) design.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 15, 2014

Do you not realize that even the OLD technology nukes have saved lives? If it were not for that nuclear, lots of people would have died due to the pollution caused from its only other option which would have been even more baseload coal. In otherwords, a nuclear powered world will kill FAR less people than a coal powered one as empirical evidence states. (I already listed links on how coal kills, somewhere on this site).

I accept that solar and wind will come down in price but I do not think that they could ever be less expensive than nuclear because of all the storage issues.

Consider: If we were to spend ALL the money that was devoted for solar and wind on just the meltdown proof nuclear concepts, we would NOT be having this dialog right now.

We would, instead be enjoying almost unlimited energy in a biosphere with only slightly above normal levels of excess CO2. Even the price would be cheaper (as France proves).

Bty, France operates far fewer coal plants per capita.

Again, the object of this whole debate is to reduce and then eliminate coal powered electricity generating facilities!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014

“... nuclear powered world will kill FAR less people than a coal powered on…
Assume you got that wrong idea from the highly biased Hanson etal study.
Taking the bias into account, I think the opposite is true.

As many other things, electricity pricing in France is political. So it tells not much about cost prices.

Furthermore electricity in Germany and here in NL is taxed for 50% by various taxes. We in NL have an energy tax, only meant to increase the price so citizens save electricity and to increase general government income.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014

Fluidized bed plants can burn many mixtures, such as waste and other.
The are not only high efficient, but also emit very little toxic due the their low temperature burning in an evironment with an oxygen surplus. Furthermore flexible (fast-up and -deepdown regulation).

There will be no baseload in Denmark after 2020 and in Germany after 2030, as then wind+solar will produce >100% of all electricity needed during ~30% of the time.
Scenario’s estimate that the capacity factor of power plants will go down towards ~50-60% on average at that time. Decreasing further in the years thereafter.

Denmark will generate all electricity by renewable only from 2040 onwards (no fossil, no nuclear).
Germany is on the same road following Denmark.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 15, 2014

Most people are guided by money. So if:

– increasing the isolation of the house saves real money, they will do it. So create a substantial energy tax on house heating fuel (gas?), lower other tax in compensation, and start a promotion campaign.
You will see, with a few years most people have increased their house isolation and lowered their energy bill (which, btw, seems to be higher in many US states than in Germany).

– similar with electricity. Within a few years you will only see LED bulbs, etc.

– similar with car fuel. A tax of $40/gallon will generate that people buy electric and/or very economic cars. People will also drive slower. So you have less deaths because of less air pollution and less accidents.

– etc.

Government can use all those extra energy related taxes to lower other taxes…

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 15, 2014

100% solar and wind for only 30% of the time? Definitely will need some heavy duty storage!

Consider that the whole point of ALL these energy related debates should be about fossil fueled depetion into an overheated biosphere, that we will have to convert over to electric cars as well as prevent all coal based excess CO2. There is not even the potential for biofuels to replace gasoline and diesel on this scale.

This is why I like to promote solar (too), despite its high costs relative to its ability to supply 24/7, because the machinery required to make it cheaper can also be used to make electric car batteries cheaper which is a must (if we are to avoid fossil fueled depletion into an overheated biosphere).

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Mar 16, 2014

pls delete

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Mar 16, 2014

Forget Ronld Regan.

The real problem came later when Bill Clinton and John Kerry Killed the IFR. Integral Fast Reactor, after the thing was almost ready to deploy.

That was the real tragedy irrationally spawned by anti-nuclear folks

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Mar 16, 2014

The reason for my optimism is the ability of volume to drive down cost.  If we were to do a big build-out in the great plains, that combined with other world development would get us 3 to 4 cumulative doublings down the experience curve on wind.  Additionally it would feed resources into the R&D machine that would get towers taller and more efficient, increasing their CFs and cost efficiencies in less optimal regions. 

“As you often say, it makes economic sense today, but apparently is being rejected”

Given the pushback I have been getting in this relatively well informed forum, I am not so sure that many have grasped the opportunity.  I think much of todays thinking is informed by studies that used 2009 vintage data, EWITS for example.  It was after that that the 100m wind maps came out clearly showing the extent of the improvement in economics and opportunity for several regions in the central US.  As far as private industry goes it would appear that some are not rejecting the opportunity.  The Grain Belt Express is developing a modest 3.5 GW transmission line from KS to IN.  It will be interesting to see how it develops. 

I think the biggest impediment in the US is transmission right of way.  800kV DC lines reduce the requirements but with power on the order of 100’s of GW it is a tall order.  Higher voltages or approaches along these lines may offer a solution.



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