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Friday, November 13, 2009

No Coal, No Oil by 2030? No Problem! Use Earth, Wind, and Fire

...and tides!

Think big: Ned Hodgman at Understanding Government points us toward a Nov. 2009 Scientific American article that lays out a plan to power the planet entirely with renewable energy and eliminate fossil fuels by 2030.

Authors Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi aren't talking about just meeting new energy demand with renewables and forestalling the construction of new coal plants. They're talking about replacing and shuttering every fossil-fuel plant on the planet and pumping out every erg the whole planet needs with 3.8 million big wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and all sorts of geothermal and tidal energy.

I don't have a SciAm subscription (trip to library today!), but Hodgman notes that this plan still focuses more on centralized power production rather than Dusty's and my favorite distributed power generation. But contrary to the grumbling of the power co-ops' propaganda campaign, Jacobson and Delucchi say that an all-renewable world energy supply would be not just affordable, but cheaper than "the projected cost per kilowatt-hour for fossil-fuel and nuclear power." The real barriers are short supply of some specialty materials and political will.

Read more online:
  • Rare Metal Blog notes the five main materials we might be short on for building worldwide renewable energy tech are neodymium, indium, lithium, silver, and platinum (invest now). RMB also notes Jacobson and Delucchi's projected cost: $100 trillion over 20 years. Let's see... $5 trillion a year... heck, that's less than 9% of annual global GDP. Small price to pay for investment in clean future energy... not to mention a heck of a lot of manufacturing and construction jobs.
  • Some naysayers say, "Gee, that's a lot!" but advance no argument that it can't be done. Again, the issue is political will, not physics or technology.
  • Ah, found a copy! Jacobson and Delucchi's plan includes no ethanol, no carbon sequestration, and no nukes. Why?

    ...when burned in vehicles, even the most ecologically acceptable sources of ethanol create air pollution that will cause the same mortality level as when gasoline is burned. Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered. Carbon capture and sequestration technology can reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants but will increase air pollutants and will extend all the other deleterious effects of coal mining, transport and processing, because more coal must be burned to power the capture and storage steps. Similarly, we consider only technologies that do not present significant waste disposal or terrorism risks [Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030," Scientific American, Nov. 2009, pp. 58–65].
If we don't think big, we won't get anywhere.


  1. I have often wondered why the ethanol plants don't have their own turbines and solar panels to replace the natural gas for production. They wouldn't need to wait for the transmission lines because it would be a personal energy system. Since most of the plants are out in a field they have room to store energy that is over produced.

  2. A. Dakota,

    The reason has to do with the expense of wind and solar versus natural gas. By Obama forcing more expensive forms of energy down America's throat, our economy will be destroyed forcing companies to relocate to China and India. So much for Obama creating jobs.

  3. If they put their own turbines up. There is no expense after implementation.

    This is something that is happening now in other places in the United States. Policy is one thing for a group and/or community effort on the grid.

    Self-sustaining is a whole other issue. Ethanol plants could start bringing in a demand in this area for personal energy systems.

  4. Mike,
    I love the idea!
    I have algae in my little 10x10 pond, who do I send it to?

    Maybe that will help the tourist industry since people won't have to deal with the algae when they swim in the lake?

  5. His analysis of nuclear power ignores the carbon savings over not needing to reconstruct our power grid. The grid he would need requires integrated storage which also isn't factored into the "carbon savings" of renewables. Seriously, nukes are the only feasible way to go if we want to change our power grid in any major way quickly. Integration of renewables will take decades at least.

  6. And since it really is so much cheaper than any of the other energies, it won't need any legislation at all to implement...

  7. Roger, if we could assume a rational and free market where certain big players would not try to exclude new entrants to protect their old profit models for short-term gain, you'd be correct. Kind of like single-payer health care: we'd save money and lives, but the insurers who profit from inefficiency keep fighting the most rational solution.

    April, keep looking for those good ideas! The Poet-Broin ethanol plant near Chancellor has been generating electricity by burning scrap wood, old pallets, I think. It might not be hard to convince such plants to adopt other alternatives like solar and algae. Keep those ideas coming!

    Tony, could we build nuclear plants to replace all fossil fuels in twenty years?

  8. Thanks Corey.
    How does algae compare to switch grass? Think of all those cow ponds, private ponds and quarries all across the state. Not to mention the glacial lakes. Then I'm sure we'd see a boom of man made lakes as people would want to get into private industry.

    Uh oh... That means we'd probably get hung up on policy instead of just doing it so we don't overdo it.

    I keep having visions of Girl Scout camp with all the girls getting out of the lake with slimy green running out of their swimsuits. We had to turn the hose on them. That stuff doesn't come out of the swimsuit liners in one wash.

    Usually someone has to make a comment about our pond during the natural blooms from temperature changes. So there would be peak production times.

  9. CAH:

    Easily, if we simply bought standardized designs from the French. But we're Americans and that would make way too much sense.

    In fact, it would cost less than 1 trillion (assuming we want to replace ALL of our use including oil and switch to electric vehicles for the majority). Our grid right now is composed of 20% nukes with ~100 antiquated plants. It would only take about another 200 modern plants to take over the rest of the load. @ a conservative estimate of 2 billion/plant that's 400 billion to replace our base load.

    The best estimates that I've seen for how much more electric power we would need to go to all electric vehicles (not long haul trucking) is 2x our current generation capacity. So, another 300 plants @ 2B each is another 600 billion for a total of ~1 trillion.

    1 trillion for energy independence, with no need for massive grid changes. And this would be guaranteed base-load power. No need for integrated storage. It's the only realistic way to go.

  10. Optimism is and admirable trait. But so is realism.

    Jacobson and Delucchi, the authors of "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030" in Scientific American are sadly lacking in the latter.

    You can get some perspective on the meaning of their under-estimated $100 trillion price tag for their plan.

    They also suggest that building their proposed system would be on par with the construction of the US Interstate Highway System. However, the Interstate Highway System, the largest public works program in history, is hundreds of time smaller than their energy system in both cost and physical size.

    Best regards,
    Tom Moriarty


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