On February 23, 2016, the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability hosted a debate on following proposition:
The debate format was a two on two with a moderator. On the side defending the viability of the strategy, Mark Z. Jacobson, the Stanford professor and energy system model creator whose work is widely cited as proving the practicality of a 100% wind, water, solar energy system for all uses, was teamed up with Dale Bryk of the National Resources Defense Council.
On the side opposing the 100% renewable energy strategy Michael Shellenberger, an ecomodernist who has concluded that clean energy future will not work without nuclear energy and most recently has founded an organization named Save Diablo Canyon, was paired with Ken Calderia, one of the four climate scientists who have publicly challenged policy influencers who dismiss nuclear energy to reconsider their opposition.
There were several hundred people who attended the event in person; UCLA also live streamed the event and archived a recorded copy on YouTube.
I recommend watching the full event when you have the time. While doing so, please pay close attention to the body language of the participants. You should notice that at least one of them would be fun — and profitable — to have as a poker opponent. Some of his faces are priceless “tells” that make it clear what he is thinking; bluffing would not come easily to him.
For this initial post on the debate — and there may be others — I’d like to focus on the opening burst of rapid-fire talking points that Jacobson fires at the audience.
Note: I’ve done quite a bit of transcription work over the years; Jacobson has taken the lead by a wide margin in the words per minute category. He spoke 1150 words in 6:40, for an average of 173 words/min or 2.9 words/second.
Here is a transcript that allows a better opportunity for deconstruction.
Mark Jacobson: So, we’ve been developing clean energy plans for 100% renewable wind water and solar plans for states and countries since 2009. Primarily myself and Dr. Mark Delucchi who’s at UC Berkeley and over 60 other scientists and students. We’ve written on the order of 15 papers including six or seven that are specific energy plans that have been reviewed by over 35 peer reviewers in the anonymous peer review literature. And these plans look at whether we can transition to 100% clean renewable wind, water and solar for all purposes.
And so we first looked at the global scale and then went down to the US scale and then we went down to the individual states and then we went back up to look at individual countries. So we have developed plans now for all 50 United States and 139 countries of the world. And just to give you a summary of what we’ve found. For 139 countries, which represent about 95% of all emissions, I mean the end use power demand that people actually use today for all purposes is is on the order of 12 – 12.5 Terawatts or trillion watts.
If we go to 2050 that goes up to about 19 and a half terawatts. But if we electrify all sectors, that’s electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, industry, agriculture, forestry and fishing, which is what we intend to do through these plans, we reduce power demand, first 32% by the efficiency of electricity over combustion without even changing your habits. That’s not even end use energy efficiency improvements, there’s a 32% reduction in demand. And then another 7% that we try to squeeze out due to end use energy efficiency improvements, which is very conservative compared to a business as usual case.
So we get down 39% end use power demand. So we have about almost 12 terawatts to satisfy, in 2050, of end use power. Then we say, “Can we power this 12 terawatts of end use power with wind, water and solar. That’s onshore and offshore wind, solar power either PV on rooftops or utility scale, concentrated solar power with storage, geothermal power, tidal and wave power, and existing hydroelectric without growing hydroelectric — conventional hydroelectric — capacity.
And we find that — indeed we’ve done plans for all 50 states and 139 countries — that we can, in all cases. And these are the benefits. We would eliminate, by doing this, we would global warming as we know it. By implementing these plans — 80% conversion by 2030 and 100% by 2050 — we would get CO2 down to 350 parts per million by 2100. Even if we get 80% by 2050 and 100% by 2100, then we still get it down to 370 parts per million.
We would create 22 million net jobs over lost worldwide by such conversions. We’d use about 1% of the world’s land. 0.4% of that is for footprint on the ground and 0.6% is spacing for onshore wind turbines that can be used for multiple purposes.
The cost of energy would be — when we account for the storage and long distance transmission that we also examined — the cost of energy is similar to a fossil fuel infrastructure in 2050. But because we need less energy, actually each person saves, in their pocket, on the order of $140 per year per person from energy costs. And we also save another three to five thousand dollars per year in health and climate costs.
Because we eliminate four to seven million air pollution deaths worldwide, we eliminate global warming as we know it; we stabilize prices because the fuel costs of wind, water and solar are zero; and we reduce international conflict because all energy is local, most, almost all energy is local. We don’t have to have international transfers of energy like we do now. We have more separated plants, distributed energy sources, so that reduce the chance of terrorism risks or massive power outages like we do now with conventional, with large conventional sources.
We reduce energy poverty worldwide. You know 4 billion people are in energy poverty including 1.3 billion who have no access to energy worldwide. We reduce that. There’s little downside. So you might ask why don’t we use, like nuclear power — which I’m sure my cohorts are going to address that — in our plans? An other things like coal with carbon capture.
And I’ll just address nuclear. Part of it is… First of all we can do it with what we have, with existing technologies, you know 98% existing technologies, so we don’t need it. And there’s a large risk in terms of national… er, international security, weapons proliferation, meltdown risk. One and a half percent of all nuclear reactors built to date have melted down to some degree. Five countries in the world have secretly developed nuclear weapons under the guise of civilian nuclear energy programs or research reactors. We have unresolved waste issues where we have to store waste for hundreds of thousands of years. My colleagues want to increase nuclear by up to a factor of ten.
If we wanted to power the whole world with nuclear, we would need about 16,000 850 MWe power plants, and we have about 400 today. So even if we have only 5% of the maximum we need, that would double it to 800. You know, we would have more countries of the world who don’t have nuclear energy right now might be interested in converting that into nuclear weapons.
In terms of cost, in terms of cost, right now wind is the cheapest form of electric power in the United States today. Unsubsidized, it’s 3.6 cents per kilowatt hour, subsidized, it’s about 2 cents per kilowatt hour. Solar at the utility scale is 5-7 cents per kilowatt hour. Natural gas is 5.2-7.5 cents a kilowatt hour. Nuclear, because there’s only one plant that there’s cost data for that’s recent, is 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour unsubsidized in the U.S. So we’re talking if you invest one dollar in nuclear you’re getting one fourth the energy output.
Plus it takes so long to put up a nuclear plant, between 10 and 19 years on average versus 2-5 years for a wind or solar farm, that while you’re waiting around, spinning your heels for this nuclear to come up, you’re burning coal, gas and oil on your regular electric power grid. And that’s resulting in… that, plus the emissions due to refining of uranium which is from fossil fuels, results in 6 to 24 times as much CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour as wind, on average. So this is a reason… these are the reasons that we don’t want to go there. Because we don’t need to. It may be better than some other technologies, but it’s not so good as wind, water, solar, and there’s no need. Because we can solve the problem with clean renewable energy with existing technology.
(Emphasis in original.)
There are numerous statements worth dissecting. I’ll start and keep going until I get tired or until the post gets too long. It might be fun for others to pick and choose additional phrases and ideas that are misleading or wrong.
Primarily myself and Dr. Mark Delucchi who’s at UC Berkeley and over 60 other scientists and students.
There is quite a credibility difference between a scientist and a student as a coworker or coauthor. Why did Jacobson lump the two categories together?
We’ve written on the order of 15 papers including six or seven that are specific energy plans that have been reviewed by over 35 peer reviewers in the peer review literature.
Who are these peer reviewers? What journals have published these papers? Are the journals written for an academic audience or one whose readers are responsible for financing, approving, building or operating electrical power systems?
If we go to 2050 that goes up to about 19 and a half terawatts.
Is that power supply peak or average? If average, what kind of variation is being leveled out? As noted later in the event, the source of that information, the Energy Information Agency, has simply projected out from today using algorithms that do not account for substantial increases in countries like India, Bangladesh, or Indonesia as people escape dire poverty or in places like sub-Saharan Africa where many people have no access to any reliable sources of heat or power other than local biomass.
But if we electrify all sectors, that’s electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, industry, agriculture, forestry and fishing, which is what we intend to do through these plans, we reduce power demand, first 32% by the efficiency of electricity over combustion without even changing your habits.
While electric motors might be more efficient than motors driven by combustion at the delivery point, it is difficult to imagine how electric heat for space heating or industrial processes will be 32% more efficient than local combustion heat or cogeneration using waste heat. It’s also extremely difficult to imagine ocean fishing being powered by any of Jacobson’s approved power sources of wind, water and solar, even if you allow for the massive use of hydrogen produced by electrical processes powered by WWS. Fishing vessels tend to spend long times at sea, far from any ability to refuel. They may need high power during transit times and they need reliable power for the refrigeration/freezers that preserve their catch on the way back to port.
So we get down 39% end use power demand.
Play close attention here. Jacobson’s plan is not to supply the power needed, but to supply the population that resides on Earth in 2050 with an arbitrary amount of power that is not quite as much as the world consumes today. That means more people, less energy. That means people who have no energy today will somehow lead better lives in 2050 through more efficient use of what they already do not have.
That’s onshore and offshore wind, solar power either PV on rooftops or utility scale, concentrated solar power with storage, geothermal power, tidal and wave power, and existing hydroelectric without growing hydroelectric — conventional hydroelectric — capacity.
Jacobson will later mention the long time it takes under current conditions to build new nuclear plants in the United States, but he includes some sources on this list that have even longer time scales. So far, it looks like offshore wind takes forever; the Cape Wind project has been trying since about 2001 to get off the ground, yet hasn’t erected a single turbine. There are no commercial tidal and wave power installations in the U.S. even though the technology has been under discussion for at least 35 years.
Jacobson’s verbal description of his plan carefully says that it doesn’t include any growth in conventional hydroelectric capacity, but a close reading of the plan shows that it includes an increase in the historical production by about 7% through more annual production. There is no indication that today’s hydroelectric operators are inefficiently using their facilities; there are many requirements and weather limitations that restrict hydro capacity factors.
By implementing these plans — 80% conversion by 2030 and 100% by 2050 — we would get CO2 down to 350 parts per million by 2100. Even if we get 80% by 2050 and 100% by 2100, then we still get it down to 370 parts per million.
Okay, folks. It is now February 2016. Who would honestly propose that we can convert 80% of our current energy supply infrastructure to an all electric system powered by WWS in less than 15 years? Even 35 years would require one of the skills required of theater goers — suspension of disbelief.
Because we eliminate four to seven million air pollution deaths worldwide, we eliminate global warming as we know it; we stabilize prices because the fuel costs of wind, water and solar are zero; and we reduce international conflict because all energy is local, most, almost all energy is local.
As long as Jacobson is making promises that cannot be fulfilled, he might as well make them really big and attractive promises. With weather dependent power sources that rely on geographic interconnections via long transmission lines, it is difficult to imagine that there are not going to be major conflicts over those lines during times when there are droughts, stationary high pressure areas, or periods of extreme clouds. Those whose solar insolation has a large seasonal variation will have to adjust their lives to match those variations if they cannot import extra power during the long, cold, dark winters.
Okay, I’m tired. Now it’s your turn. Have fun, but be polite.
Update: Here is another review from A Chemist in Langley that is well worth reading — A Jacobsonian 100% Wind Water and Sunlight gallop at UCLA