Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

What New York Times Got Wrong on Assessment of Transition to 100% Renewables

Popular
iStock

This is a response to Eduardo Porter's article in the New York Times on June 20, "Fisticuffs Over the Route to a Clean Energy Future."

Porter's article described a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Chris Clack and coauthors on June 19, criticizing a paper colleagues and I authored in the same journal in 2015. Our original paper showed that the U.S. can transition to 100% clean, renewable energy in all energy sectors without coal, nuclear power or biofuels. Porter makes several mistakes and omissions in his article that I correct here.


First, Porter relies on his claim that "21 prominent scholars…took a fine comb to the Jacobson paper and dismantled its conclusions bit by bit." This one sentence contains two falsehoods. For starters, our conclusions were not dismantled et al. Our response, which PNAS published as the last word by not permitting a response by Clack, concludes instead, "The premise and all error claims by Clack et al. about Jacobson et al. are demonstrably false. We reaffirm Jacobson et al.'s conclusions."

More important, Porter fails to point out that Clack and coauthors' own disclosure published in their paper indicates that only 3 out of 21 coauthors performed any type of research for the article. The remaining 18 did no research whatsoever, merely contributing to writing the paper with admittedly no research contribution. Of the thre authors who did perform research, one has admitted publicly, "I am not an energy expert" (see 15 minutes and 32 seconds into this UCLA debate).

Porter quotes another author, David Victor referring to our 2015 PNAS paper, as stating, "I thought 'this paper is dangerous'," despite the fact that Victor has admitted to doing no research for the article and despite the fact that he is neither a scientist nor an engineer but instead works on international policy and law. Similarly, Porter quotes another author, Varun Sivaram, as stating about the Clack paper, "Our paper is pretty devastating." But, Sivaram has also admitted in writing that he did no research for the article. Moreover, he works in foreign relations, not energy science or engineering.

In the meantime, our 100% clean, renewable energy peer-reviewed papers have collectively had more than 85 researcher-coauthors and more than 35 anonymous peer reviewers.

Porter then mimics Clack's false claim that "most of the scientific community represented on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" argues that nuclear power is necessary to help solve the climate problem.

However, Porter is wrong. As stated in our PNAS-published response to Clack, the IPCC says the exact opposite: "Without support from governments, investments in new nuclear power plants are currently generally not economically attractive within liberalized markets ..." I don't intend to be harsh. But this statement was in our response, so Porter should never have claimed about the scientific community believing nuclear is necessary in the first place.

Next, Porter claims that I "accused (my) critics of being shills for the fossil fuel and nuclear industries." No, I do not believe any of the authors are shills (someone who is paid specifically to act on someone's behalf), but I do believe most of the authors have either a research, advocacy, or financial conflict of interests in what they have written. For example, one coauthor, Sweeney, "periodically serves as a consultant or advisor to Exxon Corporation, ARCO, the American Petroleum Institute,…", all of whom profit from fossil fuels. He has also stated unequivocally, "If we were to give up on the fossil fuels, we give up on both the economy and security very quickly" (see 1 hour 29 minutes into this video).

Similarly, Jane Long, another co-author, is a Senior Fellow of the Breakthrough Institute, a pro-nuclear advocacy group. It is therefore, no surprise that several authors would criticize our work because of their conflict of interest in keeping fossil fuels and nuclear power on the table.

Porter then criticizes increasing the use of underground storage in rocks, but this storage technology is inexpensive (less than 1/300th the cost per unit energy stored than batteries) and a form of district heat. Sixty percent of Denmark's heat is from district heating using water rather than rocks. Underground rocks are a less-expensive substitute for water tanks. He also somehow thinks it is impossible to build pipes to homes when virtually every new home in the United States has gas and water pipes built to it.

Porter further criticizes the use of more hydrogen, whereas hydrogen production from electricity is an advanced technology developed more than 130 years ago. Porter then unduly criticizes the cost of capital we use and the ability of industry to use demand response to shift times of energy use, when these claims are clearly addressed in our PNAS reply letter at.

Porter then falsely implies that we propose to add new hydroelectric installations equivalent to 600 Hoover dams resulting in 100 times the flow of the Mississippi River. This analogy is nonsensical, since our annual energy output is not increased at all, whereas a flow rate of 100 times that of the Mississippi would mean that we would increase annual energy output of hydropower by a factor of ten, which we don't. The mistake by Porter and co-author of the PNAS article, Ken Caldeira, who provided this claim, is that whereas we increase the ability of the hydro to discharge significantly faster for some hours, we discharge much less during other hours in order to ensure there is zero change in the annual output. Caldeira and Porter tried to make it sound as if we increase the flow rate indefinitely.

Regardless, an alternate solution to increasing the hydropower discharge rate is to increase the discharge rate of concentrated solar power (CSP) and/or to add batteries. Both methods results in low-cost solutions as illustrated for the United States and Canada here.

The fact that the system works with either increased hydropower discharge or increased CSP and batteries contradicts Porter's quote of Clack: "The whole system falls apart because this (hydropower) is the last thing that is used. If you remove any of this, the model fails." To the contrary, the result above demonstrates that the model works without increasing hydropower peak discharge, disproving the main premise of the Clack article that our nation's energy can't run 100% on wind, water, and solar power at low cost.

In sum, I believe that a debate about our energy future can be constructive. But inaccurate statements about scientific work and amplifications of those inaccuracies help no one. Had Porter read our PNAS response carefully, he would not have made the errors he did. Nevertheless, my colleagues and I are always seeking to improve our methods and calculations. Our goals are to better the quality of life of everyone by determining the best ways to provide clean, renewable, and reliable energy while creating jobs and improving people's health and reducing costs. Hopefully others share these goals, regardless of political party affiliation.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Oregano oil is an extract that is not as strong as the essential oil, but appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Peakpx / CC by 1.0

By Alexandra Rowles

Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.

However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro meets Ronaldo Caiado, governor of the state of Goiás on June 5, 2020. Palácio do Planalto / CC BY 2.0

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over the world's second worst coronavirus outbreak after the U.S., said Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Read More Show Less
Although natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, it is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Skitterphoto / PIxabay

By Emily Grubert

Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved two Lysol products as the first to effectively kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces, based on laboratory testing. Paul Hennessy / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveils the Green New Deal resolution in front of the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Judith Lewis Mernit

For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.

Read More Show Less
About 30,000 claims contending that Roundup caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are currently unsettled. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana aren't just a loss for the ecosystem and global conservation efforts. Mario Micklisch / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Charli Shield

When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.

Read More Show Less