Mark Jacobson describes attributes of his incredibly optimistic wind, water, solar energy plans
During COP16, Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson described attributes of his team’s most recently produced paper. The abstract leads with the following claim about the paper’s content.
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.
He was greeted with enthusiastic applause before he began; the enthusiasm was even louder after he had finished telling the audience exactly what they wanted to hear.
According to his talk, it will be cheaper, safer, and healthier for the world to take his advice to eliminate nuclear, natural gas, oil and coal and to depend entirely on solar collectors (some PV and some thermal), large wind turbines, and some hydropower (existing large dams plus existing and planned pumped storage).
In addition, he and his team predict that there will be 22 million net jobs created, that international conflict will disappear, and that all nations will be able to supply virtually all of the energy they need from within their own borders. Our electricity supply will be more reliable and cost less than it otherwise would.
We may still have to worry about the common cold, cancer and toe fungus, but our energy, climate change and air pollution worries will fade away as the transition continues.
The devil, as Rickover used to say, is in the details.
Your mission, should you decide to participate, is to clearly identify one or more unreasonable assumptions from Jacobson, et. al. November 2015 paper published in PNAS titled Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes.
A draft of the country by country and state by state plans is titled 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All- Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World. The version that we used during our discussion is dated December 13, 2015.
I’ve retained a copy of that version; the introduction states that the document is not yet in its final form and modifications are expected. The version used contained 61 pages including notes.
If anyone has experience with tools like storify.com, I’d be eternally grateful if they would create a narrative from the Tweet exchanges between @mzjacobson and @atomicrod after I published my December 14, 2015 post. It might be best not to procrastinate; tweets can disappear without warning.
I might take on the task myself, but it’s been a long day and I don’t have the available remaining brain cycles to learn a new tool right now. Thanks in advance to anyone who takes on this requested task. Let us all know via a comment that you’re working on it; that will prevent wasteful, duplicative effort.
Here are the last couple of tweets in the exchange.
@Atomicrod I answer legitimate journalists, not tobacco-like advocates who can’t control their temper and actively seek to publish smears
— Mark Z. Jacobson (@mzjacobson) December 15, 2015
@mzjacobson Smear? Let’s ask observers of this discussion if they can find a smear in my questions. Began Atomic Insights in 1995. Tobacco?
— Rod Adams (@Atomicrod) December 15, 2015
I concluded with the following observation, hoping to stimulate some thinking and soul-searching.
Man who wrote “Now that #COP21 treaty done, time to deploy 100% clean, renewable energy” called me “tobacco-like advocate.” Hmmm
— Rod Adams (@Atomicrod) December 15, 2015
Here is a direct link to the report dealing with solving intermittency. I think it will be of most interest and deserves the most scrutiny.
One part of the report which should immediately raise some eyebrows is table 1, in which it is indicated that at least two-thirds of all US power demand in 2050 will be flexible. AFAIK, other studies intended to determine the fraction of flexible demand have not found more than 10% of (electricity!) demand to be flexible to any degree, so I think it will be worthwhile to find out how Jacobson arrives at a figure of 67% for total(!) energy demand.
Presumably, much if not most of Jacobson’s conclusion that WWS intermittency is a solved problem in the US in 2050 hinges on his premise that 67% of total energy demand in 2050 will be flexible, with the word ‘flexible’ being defined as a power demand which can be arbitrarily shifted to the future for up to 8 hours.
There are more things in this report which are surprising to me and which I want to delve into in the coming days, but I will leave it here for now.
I can tell you. He pulled it out of his backside.
It doesn’t matter. Assumptions about 2050? Who cares? Jacobson will be long retired, perhaps dead, by then. That’s why these predictions are made so far into the future. People are dumb enough to believe them today, and the person making the predictions won’t be around when they are proven wrong.
Even when the person does live long enough to see his predictions turn out to be devastatingly (hillariously?) wrong, it doesn’t matter. Take Paul Ehrlich, another Stanford academic (and fraud). He has been predicting the end of humanity for about half a century now, with mass starvation starting in the 1980’s and everything going to hell by 2000. Instead of admitting he was wrong, he only doubles down on these predictions and is still today predicting the collapse that never came. Even though he has never been right on anything, he is still treated like a venerable rock star by the environmental community.
Just take a look at Table 1 of the report.
The assumption seems ridiculous to me.
I’ve only begun looking at the report, and I, like Rod, Charles Barton, and many others here, am certain that Jacobson is off on a wild flight of fantasy – but the report still deserves very careful reading. Table 1’s heading contains some very careful weasel wording: “load for each use that is flexible and/or can be coupled with storage.”
It’s the “coupling with storage” that lets him wave his magic wand. I don’t know if he does an analysis of the storage requirements (capital, operations, maintenance, and energy lost in the conversion to and from the stored form). This is just my first glance.
All I ask is that in analyzing the paper and its claims, we read diligently and be polite in what we say. Rod is a shining example of this, IMO.
Another observation – the report was “edited by Stephen Polansky“. If I’ve found the right person at the University of Minnesota, he’s a “professor of ecological/environmental economics”. Not an engineer of any description. Not somebody I’d choose to review a paper discussing serious engineering challenges.
Thank you to taking the task seriously. Careful reading will, indeed be useful. For example, I just noticed this gem on page 8 of the Supplementary Information attached to Low cost solution to grid reliability problem…
Think about the implications of that far reaching assumption. Remember, Jacobson’s claim is that the needed technologies are mature and available today.
This has been a heavily-touted scheme in the Energiewende as well, but one of the things the careful observer cannot help but notice is cost is never mentioned. An article linked on Green Car Congress recently made the mistake of letting the veil slip: ~$15/kg for H2 from WWS.
$15/kg H2 into a 60%-efficient fuel cell yields a fuel cost of $0.63/kWh.
Jacobson’s “utopian vision” is one in which vehicular transport and even basics like refrigeration are luxury goods. It is a nightmare.
“Any time of a year”?
Is that like how we operate the average factory nowadays in a normal economy? We just produce a given product any old time, whenever some raw material happens to be delivered. Forget O&M, staff costs, depreciation, idle plant, profitability, competitiveness, customer focus…
As I’ve said before, there’s a breed of academic who seriously needs to take a sabbatical on to The Shop Floor to see some of the reality his silly modelling doesn’t account for.
That’s a great question, Joris.
I wonder how much he views heating and cooling as flexible? He probably views those as “flexible” energy, but they’re not exactly flexible. Consider that it’s a winter day and the temperatures are about -5 (celsius), and that at night, that will drop down to -12.
Now, it’s true you can turn the thermostat down to, say, 16 (C) instead of 20C, to save energy, but you can’t avoid running the heat completely, becuase if you have the heater turned off for 8 hours straight at those temperatures, you’re quite likely to bust your water pipes.
If you leave your AC off during the hot part of the day during the summer, likewise, for 8 hours, it’s possible you or one of your pets might have heat stroke before the sun sets.
It’s true that heat is a more manageable problem, typically, than cold – people did survive the summer (mostly – though some did die of the heat) before air cooling was invented, so that’s a problem that, with great discomfort *could* be addressed. Not so much the winter heating problem, though.
I briefly had a contract gig on the other side of the state from where my home was. I got a room in a motel which had apparently recently gone from American-owned to immigrant-owned. They put me on the top floor. It was the middle of summer, and I would leave the A/C cranked up when I left in the morning only to find when I came back that the maids had shut it off all day and the room was so oppressively hot that it was uninhabitable.
The work site was in an industrial building with a very high roof. Part of the work area had a false ceiling, some didn’t. The air temperature at the floor wasn’t much different, but the huge variation in IR radiation with and without the false ceiling blocking the heat from the roof was palpable.
There needs to be a corollary to Godwin’s law that encompasses comparisons to tobacco companies.
It’s a clear sign that someone has given up the debate because he has nothing reasonable or useful to say.
I seem to recall Bob Applebaum utilizing that claim often, and it certainly seems to be a direct corollary to Godwin’s law.
Yes, I had him in mind when I wrote that.
The phrase “The devil is in the details” summarizes my entire engineering career. This is a paper with futuristic opinions that sound good to people, like the cover of Popular Science magazine.
Mark Z. Jacobson has a propensity to come use weak arguments to reach sweeping generalizations. Take for example his argument that the use of nuclear power would lead to the use of nuclear weapons every thirty years. Jacobson claimed that the development of nuclear power leads to the development of nuclear weapons. Historically, however, the evidence suggests the oppisit. The United States, The Soviet Union, China, Israel, South afrika, North Korea, the United Kingdom, and South Africa all developed nuclear weapons before they built civilian nuclear power generating facilities. We can offer a long list of Nations that have acquired nuclear power generation technology and have not gone on to produce nuclear weapons. Furthermore, nuclear weapon aquisition appears to be used primarily as a deterrent. Thus ownership of nuclear weapons during the cold war era, did not lead to their use. Nore has the nuclear armament of India and Pakistan, which have fought several wars since 1947, but never had a nuclear weapons exchange. Thus Jacobson’s nuclear weapons exchange every 30 years, appears highly unlikely. In addition, Jacobson appears to maintain that owning civilian nuclear power technology is a necessary step in the development of nuclear weapons is falsified by historical evidence. Thus Jacobson’s primary argument aginst the use of nuclear power, as a tool to fight climate change, is based on an assumption that is false. Furthermore Dr. Jacobson must by now be aware of critics who have pointed out the weakness of his argument. Jacobson has not answered these critics, neither has he withdrawn the section of his paper in which he sets out his falsified argument.
I recently had a twitter conversation with him in which he stated wind turbines will be manufactured completely free of fossil fuels, I didn’t see much in that regard in the report. https://twitter.com/mzjacobson/status/676110188470886401
Jacobsen is an example of nuclear energy bigotry; has he ever said anything positive about nuclear? Very little indeed. However, what frosts me is his tobacco bit. Where did he come up with that fabrication?
The tobacco reference appears to have started with Sen. Whitehorse this past summer when he opined that fossil fuel companies and scientists, who have been declared “global warming deniers”, should be brought up on RICO charges similar to what happened to the tobacco industry.
Now the rabid anti-nuclear groups are expanding that tobacco reference to include nuclear power supporters. Naomi Orsekes claimed today that anyone who does not support Jacobson’s plan but does support nuclear power is now a climate change denier:
WOW! Calling Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Tom Wigley, Dr. Ken Caldeira and Dr. Kerry Emanuel climate deniers is going waaaaay out on that limb of denying science and engineering.
Programming Note: My comment is not meant to restart the debate on climate change. Only providing the background that I think kicked off the tobacco reference.
I just saw that Orsekes paper today. A very anti nuclear acquaintance and neighbor posted it. I pointed out it wasn’t very progressive to label scientists with a different view as climate deniers without even trying to understand why they believe what they believe.
Promptly unfriended from Facebook…
Don’t forget Rod. He’s now a “denier” too.
I wrote a post on Jacobson’s untested vision for Washington State. Rod wrote an excellent comment on it.
Jacobson’s top staff line-up consists of an Executive Director and State Program Director. (reasonable titles) and a “Creative Director” and a “Producer” (huh?). Is Jacobson running a film company or an engineering organization? Sounds like a film company.
Rod, Jacobson reveals how he discounts criticism. Jacobson’s ability to ignore criticism of flaws in his work falls into a familiar pattern.
On pg. 19 of 34 of the PNAS paper, table S1. states 514 TWh of stored energy as Underground Thermal Energy Storage (UTES) can discharge 715 GW of continuous power for 30 consecutive days. Table S2. states that as of 2013, ZERO GW of storage capacity from this technology is currently installed, yet by 2050 467 GW of capacity will be installed.
In podcasts, I’ve listen to Mark Jacobson explain how he plans to store summer’s surplus solar generation as heat in the soil for later use in the winter. Thus magically solving renewable’s seasonal variation problem. As a non-engineer, huge red flags go up with the scale of these capacity numbers. Is this type of storage even possible on a small scale? If so, wouldn’t it be better to use this storage technology to load follow nuclear for heating and electricity?
This is one of the rare occasions when Jacobson is right about something. Dirt isn’t a particularly great storage medium for heat, but the surface (heat leakage) area of a big heap of it increases at only the 2/3 power of the volume and the proportional thickness of an insulating layer also increases as the 1/3 power of volume. What this amounts to is that the heat loss scales as volume to 1/3, meaning bigger is better.
You’re absolutely correct that nobody has done this yet. The actual practical difficulties of exploiting these advantages are untested.
IMO it is better to divert than to store. Diversion to dump loads can achieve a number of worthwhile objectives. For instance, conversion of cellulose to decanes works at temperatures of barely 220°C (LWR output steam is 275-315°C). With an upgrade of heat to 350°C, hydrothermal gasification of wet algae is feasible. If steam is upgraded to 500+°C by compression, heat can be stored in “solar salt” (mixed nitrates and nitrites) and used to generate steam for peaking generation the next day at very reasonable per-kWh cost.
In addition to dispatchable syn-fuel plants, Nathan Wilson, frequently advocates the use of hot water based, district heat networks fed by nuclear combine-heat and power to divert energy. “District heat networks could smooth peak demand using low cost thermal energy storage in insulated tanks at the building, neighborhood, or city level.”
I’m only a chemist, not an engineer (so my gripe is generally the chemical battery oversell – they will just never scale up enough) but in principle, if storage is built to grid-scale, it is *invariably* most profitable to use it for arbitrage sans market distortions.
Er Jacobsen is a civil engineer no more qualified to design a large generation, transmission, and power grid than a 7/11 clerk. He is eminently qualified to tell a backhoe operator where to dig windmill foundations.
It has been done on a small scale for space heating purposes.
SFAIK it hasn’t been done with the much higher temperatures needed for electricity generation.
The cost figures are where he waves his magic wand. Because he assumes a social cost of carbon that is very high, and then shows that his plan isn’t much higher than that. So we’re gonna save those trillions he’s costing us by dropping fossil carbon and “spending” the “social capital” it’s gonna save. That’s the same tricky move we’ve seen elsewhere, e.g. in Budishak et al, where they claim the cost is low, but then when you read the details it turns out that the price of electricity triples. Jacobson et al,, however, are way too smart to talk about prices, dodging that by talking only about costs.
But if we were to replace all of Jacobson’s solar with nuclear, we would get the same result at half the price or less. Nuclear and wind are pretty comparable, all in all, but when you compare nuclear to solar it’s not even close: nuclear is five times faster to build than solar, nuclear is three times lower in CO2 emissions than solar, and nuclear is currently one-third the cost of solar.
Plus, we wouldn’t have to build any storage at all, and we could do it using today’s grid, without the expensive grid re-tooling solar would require. The most recently completed HVDC overland line in North America, the West Alberta line, was finished in March 2015 at a cost of $6 million per mile. At that cost, it’s cheaper to build a nuclear plant next door than to transport wind power 700 miles. And it’s even worse for solar.
When I was in high school I had a friend named John. He was kind of a rowdy kid, but very very smart. This was about 1970 and the Vietnam war was going full blast. One day John took some gasoline from the jerry can in his garage and made up a batch of napalm in a coffee can, and he threw it in his neighbor’s driveway. There was a big boom and it left a big black mark in the driveway, and man, when you’re in high school there’s nothing cooler than that. John later achieved his career ambition and became an officer in the US Air Force.
I had another friend in high school named Dave, and Dave also made up a batch of napalm and threw it in his neighbor’s driveway. But Dave didn’t get the gasoline from the jerry can in his garage. Instead, Dave bought a Rolls-Royce and siphoned the gas tank. Dave later achieved his career ambition and became chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Full Disclosure: Only one of those two stories is true. But I bet every person reading this comment is smart enough to spot the fake.
Essentially, Jacobson is arguing that we should never, ever build another Rolls-Royce, because of the danger that Rolls-Royces will lead to the proliferation of napalm. But if you were smart enough to spot the fake story, you should be smart enough to spot the flaw in Jacobson’s reasoning.
Keith, I think you are being generous to wind power there. Any cost comparison should be done at a comparable level of utility, at comparable levels of CO2 output. By the time you’ve added all your storage and gas backup to wind & solar to make it reliable and useful in the way we are familiar with, it’s not going to be all that cheap.
Up in the comments, E-P said
$15/kg H2 into a 60%-efficient fuel cell yields a fuel cost of $0.63/kWh
I tried to do the same with gasoline at 3 USD per US gal and 25% efficient ICE:
3 $/gal * gal/115,000Btu * 3413 Btu/kW-hr * 0.25 eff = 0.022 $/kW-hr
did I do that correctly? so the H2 scheme is 30 times the cost of gasoline?
No I don’t think I did that right…. I cant duplicate E-P’s number either. I think I need to divide by the efficiency, or by (1-eff) or something.
@EP please show us how you got your 63 cents/kW-hr
Rod, sorry to clog up your blog. I think I have this right now:
H2 energy content = 33 kw-hr per kg
gasoline energy content = 33 kw-hr per gallon (US) (weird but apparently true)
so if the H2 is 15$/kg and the fuel cell is 60% eff
and the gasoline is 3$/gal and the engine is 25% efficient
then using the H2 will cost (15/3)*(0.25/0.60) = 2 times as much as the gasoline
that’s bad but not ridiculous (like my earlier 30x)
FWIW, using these numbers I get ~0.75 $/kw-hr vs. E-P’s 0.63 value. Still not sure why that is
Thanks for listening
These sort of prices are already normal in Europe. In the UK petrol (gasoline) costs 1.055UKP/litre, about $6/gal.
That is exactly what you do. Rather, you take
——————— = cost per unit energy
total energy out
Mostly this affects where you put parentheses, but it helps a lot in understanding what you’re doing.
No, you’ve made a error.
1 Gallon gasoline = 115000 BTU or 33.7 kWh at 100% conversion efficiency.
Since conversion efficiency is ~25%, you would actually get about 8.42 kWh from that gallon.
So $3 / 8.42 = $.36 per kWh fuel cost for gasoline.
At 3.04 Jacobson appears to say that switching to renewables will created an extra 22 million jobs Worldwide.
It’s amazing how Greens reel this off as A Good Thing, when it’s the opposite. Those extra jobs represent how inefficient and labour intensive wind and solar are compared to fossil fuel energy.
It’s like saying a ban on building cars by robot would be a good thing because more people could be then be employed.
Odd that no-one bothers to point this out.
Another way to look at this same issue is through EROI, Energy Return on Investment. In the old days, before the Industrial Revolution, nearly all energy extraction was done via agriculture. But animal-powered agriculture has a very low EROI, about 4.
Imagine energy as a lever balanced on a fulcrum. All the energy extraction is on one side, and all the energy consumption is on the other. And the lever has to balance. A low EROI means that you have only a small amount of leverage: the weight on the production side is very close to the fulcrum. Which means you need a lot of weight there, to balance the consumption side. That’s why before the Industrial Revolution, 90% of everyone was employed in agriculture, while just the remaining 10% were doing those energy-intensive activities, like building pyramids, building roads, building gothic cathedrals, and fighting wars. It’s only those 10% you read about in history books, but they were supported by those 90% doing low-EROI agriculture.
And then we discovered coal. Which (at the start) had a huge EROI of 80 or 100. So we move one farmer waaaay out to the end of the lever to mine coal, and that leverage allows four other farmers to move to the city and make steel. And then we move one farmer to the coal mine, and four farmers move to the city and start building railroads. We move one more farmer to the coal mine, and five farmers move to the city to make cars. And suddenly we’ve got urbanization, and industrialization, and mass production, and industry, and science, and medicine, and art, and pre-packaged dogfood, all supported by a few fossil energy extractors at the far end of the lever.
So now we realize we can’t use fossil fuels any more, because it’s killing the climate. These days nuclear has an EROI of about 75 and solar has an EROI of about 8. And the solar advocates are waving their flag and saying, “Hey, look at this! It takes a whole lot of people to run solar power! Yippeeee!”
And I’m thinking, My God! Civilization is going backwards.
Zakly. I call it “energy feudalism.”
I want to ask a question, but I am afraid in this online environment it may come across as sarcasm or criticism, and I do not want you to interpret it that way.
In the examples you provide it seems fair to say that labor supply was a clear constraint on society. Have times changed? Are we now in a different world with regard to labor supply?
Labor and capital are both constraints on the economy, and that’s been recognized for a long time. (To put it in terms of the example above, “weight” on the energy lever represents both labor and capital.) What’s been missing in classical economics is that energy is also a constraint. In other words, energy extraction is “special” in economic terms and should be treated differently from other industries. This is only now just being recognized, See, for example, this research by Reiner Kümmel and Dietmar Lindenberger.
It’s human labor as a commodity rather than labor as a state change. Jacobson wants to increase labor as a commodity. It reminds me of an idle soldier required to move a dirt pile then, idle again after complete, be required to move it back.
There should be a named “falacy” of the idea that human labor is some sort of commodity.
I think this fallacy comes from the amateur economists’ observation that “we pay each others’ wages”, seemingly implying that the creation of jobs is equal to the creation of wages, wealth, prosperity and happiness. This simplistic assumption allows the amateur economist to ignore rather more complicated concepts such as productivity growth, technology, supply and demand, balance of payments, credit and debt, etc.
Is this like Paul Krugman’s excuse for the US national debt: “we owe it to ourselves”?
Its a variation of the “broken window fallacy”. Children breaking windows is good for the economy because it provides work for the glaziers (window repairmen).
Solar energy is good because it is so labor inefficient compared to other methods that jobs will be created. Look for the essay by Fredrick Bastiat that disproves this fallacy.
Do renewables really produce that many jobs? Once a solar array is built, how many people are needed to operate it, maybe 30 or 40? What are they doing, watching the sun shine or the panels move? Same with windmills. How many people are needed to run a wind farm? Probably not many. Watching those blades spin around doesn’t sound like much of a career. Gas-fired plants may need a couple of dozen people, maybe.
Nuclear plants have maybe 500-700 for a single-unit plant, maybe 1200 for multi-units. And those aren’t just make-labor jobs, either, like digging manure or threshing hay by hand. Those are in large measure high-tech jobs that need a skilled, educated workforce, the kind of jobs everyone says we should generate and preserve (unless they are nuclear-related, evidently).
Two comments about Jacobson’s approach:
One: The only way his system might work — and the only way to find out if it might work — is to build most if not all of his entire WWS infrastructure.
It’s a $10+ Trillion gamble on what I call “energy interdependency” as distinct from “energy independence.”
Two: How does he propose to sync and switch all of this intermittent, low-quality waveform power?
Seems like he’ll be flooding the grid with the power equivalent of the London Symphony’s cacophony in The Beatles “A Day in the Life”, where the conductor basically said, “Each instrument will play for 16 bars. Start on this note, and end on this note.” And that was it; the orchestra was on its own. And we can hear the result.
Jacobson’s paper citied Wikipedia as a source 6 times. Isn’t this bad citation etiquette?
Did Jacobson happen to cite https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested ?
Somehow I doubt it.
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