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Seb Kennedy's picture
Founding Editor, Energy Flux newsletter

I am professional energy journalist, writer and editor who has been chronicling the renewables and fossil fuel energy sectors since 2008.  I am passionate about the energy transition, so much so...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jul 6, 2021

It could be cheaper than you think to shift the US power mix to 100% renewables by 2050.

But driving out the most efficient fossil fuel generators will almost certainly prove to be economically impractical – particularly if the transition is accelerated.

That’s the headline conclusion from a detailed new study that seeks to quantify the challenge of reaching a 100% renewable energy power system for the contiguous US.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 6, 2021

These conclusions should be of particular interest to the Biden administration, which has pledged to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035. It is highly likely that this will include nuclear and CCS, rather than 100% RE.

This also brings to light the frustrating element of any politician making these long-term promises (even if Biden is bringing that promise as early as 2035 instead of the traditional 2050): they won't be in power as we approach those deadlines. They can only set up the structure and set us on the path, but this will be an incredibly intensive process between now and 2035 and if we start to fall short then no one who was a part of that decision will be in power to answer to accountability. 

It's quite easy to make these promises, but it's quite challenging in practice. That's not necessarily the fault of those in charge-- the energy transition will take longer than any term limits. But I hope just as much as 2035 goals we focus on what can/should/must be done now while they do have the ability to set projects in motion. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 6, 2021

Your skepticism noted and appreciated, Matt. An independent panel of 21 recognized international experts:

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, aand Jay F. Whitacre,

which represent the following independent institutions:

Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO 80305

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80305

Department of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala University, 752 37 Uppsala, Sweden

Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA15213

Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Center for Global Energy Policy, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027

Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA 94305

Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697

Omni Optimum, Evergreen, CO 80437

Enduring Energy, LLC, Boulder, CO 80303

Electrical Engineering and Complex Systems Center, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT05405

Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA94720-3050

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA 94550

Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80305

Council on Foreign Relations, New York, NY 10065

Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-4206

Management Science and Engineering Department, Huang Engineering Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093

School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA92093

Brookings Institution, Washington, DC 20036

and authored "Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar", would lay NREL's junk science to waste.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jul 8, 2021


As I have said before I love seeing your support for some of the top researchers in the field - Jesse Jenkins in a recent post and Dr. Clack - the lead author in the report you cite here.

Dr Clack and his group at Vibrant Clean Energy are publishing some great stuff - including the recent - 

Why Local Solar For All Costs Less: A New Roadmap for the Lowest Cost Grid



Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 8, 2021

Joe, it's very possible for smart, capable people to be lured into advocating for something they know is preposterous if there's enough money in it. Isn't it?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jul 8, 2021

It's also possible Bob that you are misrepresenting the views of the experts that you cite.  You pretend that they are supporters of your nuclear-centric view when in reality they are not.

Dr Clack , Dr Jenkins and other are not detractors of nuclear. However, they see nuclear's contribution as being much smaller vs renewables for a future zero-carbon grid.  That makes a lot of sense.

By the way, another top notch guy on your list is Dr. Daniel M. Kammen  - Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, with parallel appointments in the Energy and Resources Group where he serves as Chair, the Goldman School of Public Policy where he directs the Center for Environmental Policy, and the department of Nuclear Engineering. 

Same for Dr. Sivaram who is now working with Biden administration. Again. Top notch. Keep citing them.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 9, 2021

"Dr Clack , Dr Jenkins and other are not detractors of nuclear. However, they see nuclear's contribution as being much smaller vs renewables for a future zero-carbon grid.  That makes a lot of sense."

Love that you've become a fan of Jesse Jenkins, Joe, now that he's carrying water for British Petroleum and ExxonMobil. They, of course, see the future of renewables as much more limited than that of gas and oil - otherwise, they would have given up on fossils long ago. Sticking with gas and oil makes a lot of sense if you're ok with throwing the environment under the bus.

Are you familiar with the pivotal paper in which Jenkins suggests it will be impossible for market penetration of renewable sources to exceed their capacity factors? Top notch stuff, Joe, but that was before he was writing papers on behalf of university donors, like Jacobson. As his 2015 prediction is proven true, in market after market, appreciation for Dr. Jenkins's foresight and perspicacity grows. His new bosses couldn't be happier!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 6, 2021

Seb, why would anyone expect anything but ideological trash from the self-breeders at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)?

Every one of your "academic" paper's authors - Wesley J. Cole, Danny Greer, Paul Denholm, A. Will Frazier, Scott Machen, Trieu Mai, Nina Vincent, and Samuel Baldwin - are paid to promote renewable energy (it's in the org's mission statement).

Equally insightful would be an academic study published by the board of the Coca-Cola Company, investigating whether Coca-Cola tastes better than Pepsi.


Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on Jul 8, 2021

I understand your point Bob, and I agree it is important not to overlook the source of research. 

That said, rejecting the paper outright due to its source seems overly cynical to me in this case. NREL is part of DoE, so its primary funding source is the US taxpayer, not the renewables industry. Your analogy with Coca-Cola does not apply here.

Perhaps we should engage with the message, rather than shoot the messenger? I know you advocate for a nuclear-powered future, but don't let that narrow your lens.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 8, 2021

Seb, look at the list of references for the paper: nearly all are from 2018, and follow on the heels of Clack et al's debunking of "100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States" (see above). That paper's lead author was Mark Z. Jacobson, professor at Stanford's fossil-fuel-funded Precourt Institute of Energy, and fellow of its Natural Gas Initiative.

By leveling Jacobson's paper, Clack et al threw a firecracker into a hornet's nest of natural gas/renewables profiteering. Jacobson even sued its authors, claiming defamation. Though he eventually dropped the suit, he was forced by a judge to pay Clack et al's legal fees, estimated at $1 million.

Jacobson's discredited paper and three others co-authored by him serve as the crumbling foundation of NREL's premise that a 100% renewable grid in the U.S. is remotely possible. So when someone begins a post with "The U.S. Can Run On 100% Renewable Power" it will be challenged. Honestly, I don't care what the motivation is for making the claim. The bottom line is there's no credible evidence to support it.

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