Quantcast
Popular
iStock

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

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.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
350 .org / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Taking Your First Steps Into Local Climate Action

Yes, yes—it can feel daunting. The climate crisis is more urgent than it's ever been. Some days we feel like we're making good progress, when we hear of countries powered by 100 percent renewable energy or a big commitment to take on fossil fuel corporations from a city like New York. But other days, it's a heavy burden knowing there's so much more that needs to be done to unseat the fossil fuel industry and move to a just, Fossil Free, renewably-powered world.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From

It started with a call from actress and animal rights activist Natalie Portman to author Jonathan Safran Foer. The latter had recently taken a break from novel-writing to publish 2009's New York Times best-selling treatise Eating Animals—an in-depth discussion of what it means to eat animals in an industrialized world, with all attendant environmental and ethical concerns. The two planned a meeting in Foer's Brooklyn backyard, and also invited documentary director Christopher Dillon Quinn (God Grew Tired of Us) over. The idea was to figure out how to turn Foer's sprawling, memoiristic book into a documentary that would ignite mainstream conversations around our food systems.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

A Ghanaian Chef Feeding His Country and Combating Food Waste

Ghanaian chef Elijah Amoo Addo is on a mission to feed his nation on the excesses the food industry creates. Since 2012, he has been collecting unwanted stock or food nearing its use-by date from suppliers, farmers and restaurants in Ghana to redistribute to orphanages, hospitals, schools and vulnerable communities through his not-for-profit organization Food for All Africa. They provide meals through a Share Your Breakfast program in addition to donating stock to be used later. The organization supports and encourages communities to farm and works with stakeholders within Ghana's food industry on ways to combat waste.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Tucuxi Amazon river dolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis). Projeto Boto

Hunting, Fishing Cause Dramatic Decline in Amazon River Dolphins

By Claire Asher

Populations of two species of river dolphin in the Amazon are halving every decade, according to the results of a twenty-two year survey.

The Amazon rainforest is home to the Amazon river dolphin, or Boto (Inia geoffrensis) and the Tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis). But the results of a long-term study published in PLoS ONE show that both of these once abundant aquatic mammals are now in rapid decline in the Brazilian Amazon, likely due to hunting and fishing.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy

'Historic First': Nebraska Farmers Return Land to Ponca Tribe in Effort to Block Keystone XL

By Jessica Corbett

In a move that could challenge the proposed path of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline—and acknowledges the U.S. government's long history of abusing Native Americans and forcing them off their lands—a Nebraska farm couple has returned a portion of ancestral land to the Ponca Tribe.

Keep reading... Show less
Business

Sustainable Fashion Innovator Makes Fiber From Pineapple Leaves

In 1960, 97 percent of the fibers used in clothing came from natural materials. Today that number has fallen to 35 percent. But sustainable fashion veteran Isaac Nichelson wants to reverse that trend.

His company, Circular Systems S.P.C. (Social Purpose Corp.), has developed an innovative technology for turning food waste into thread, according to a Fast Company profile published Friday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment on April 26. EPA / YouTube

Chair of Senate Environment Panel to Call Scott Pruitt to Testify on Scandals

The Republican chairman of the Senate committee with oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to call the agency's embattled chief Scott Pruitt to testify, specifically in response to multiple scandals and investigations surrounding the administrator.

Through a spokesperson, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., informed Reuters of his decision to compel Pruitt to come before the Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions about his alleged abuse of his office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Pexels

Senate’s Farm Bill Moves Forward—But What Is It, Anyway?

By Shannan Lenke Stoll

The Senate Agriculture Committee just passed its version of a farm bill in a 20-1 vote Thursday. It's one more step in what has been a delayed journey to pass a 2018–2022 bill before the current one expires in September.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!