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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.
This is a response to Robert Bryce's article in National Review on June 24, "Appalling Delusion of 100% Renewables Exposed: National Academy of Science Refutes Mark Jacobson's Dream That Our Economy Can Run Exclusively on 'Green' Energy."
Bryce's article describes 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. This response demonstrates that Bryce was negligent by not reporting our simultaneously published response in PNAS and by inaccurately reporting the facts.
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This is a response to James Conca's article in Forbes on June 26, "Debunking the Unscientific Fantasy of 100% Renewables."
Conca's article describes 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. In this response, I show that Conca was negligent by not reporting on our response in PNAS and by seriously misrepresenting facts.
The last week has seen a flood of stories on clean energy's prospects—stories that make your head spin with their conflicting tales of renewable energy's prospects of ending our dangerous addiction to fossil fuel power from coal and gas.
PNAS published a paper today by nuclear and fossil fuel supporters, which is replete with false information for the sole purpose of criticizing a 2015 paper colleagues and I published in the same journal on the potential for the U.S. grid to stay stable at low cost with 100 percent renewable wind, water and solar power. The journal also published our response to the paper.
Lawmakers in California and Massachusetts have recently introduced bills that would require their respective states to get all of its electricity from renewable energy sources.
California Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who introduced SB 584 last Friday, would require the Golden State to have a carbon-free grid by 2045. It would also accelerate the state's current goal of hitting 50 percent renewables by 2030 to 2025.
De León actually helped pushed through the initial 50 percent by 2030 law two years ago, but as he told the Los Angeles Times the legislation did not go far enough.
"We probably should have shot for the stars," he said.
As InsideClimate News noted, California is already well on its way:
"The California Energy Commission says the state got about 27 percent of its electricity from renewables last year, slightly better than the 25 percent required by law. Capacity has more than doubled over the past decade. California's largest utilities have also said they are ahead of schedule for meeting their 2020 goal."
Massachusetts legislators have also announced similar clean energy efforts. HD.3357 and SD.1932 was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Sean Garballey and Marjorie Decker and in the Senate by Sen. Jamie Eldridge.
The measure would require Massachusetts to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2035. All of its energy needs, including heating and transportation, would have to come from renewable sources by 2050.
So far, the only state that has an official 100 percent renewable energy standard is Hawaii. Hawaii's aggressive clean energy mandate—requiring the state's electricity to come from renewable sources no later than 2045—was enacted back in 2015.
Many renewable-energy loving states—as well as town and city governments—are ramping up their clean energy goals in spite of the federal government's favoritism of fossil fuels and indifference towards fighting climate change.
This month, Nevada assemblyman Chris Brook introduced a bill to ramp up the state's renewable portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2040. Nevada's current standard calls for 25 percent by 2025.
Transitioning to 100 percent clean energy is not as far-fetched as it seems.
Last year, The Solutions Project team published a study explaining how each state can replace fossil fuels by tapping into renewable resources available in each state such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and even small amounts of tidal and wave power.
The Solutions Project
The authors found that converting the nation's energy infrastructure into renewables is ideal because it helps fight climate change, saves lives by eliminating air pollution, creates jobs in the rapidly booming renewable energy sector and also stabilizes energy prices.
"It is now established that such a transition is possible state by state and country by country," Jacobson commented to EcoWatch in December.
Also, as USA TODAY pointed out from a University of Texas at Austin study, wind turbines and big solar farms are the cheapest sources of new electricity generation across much of the U.S. Certainly in sun-soaked California, where solar is the cheapest form of energy in much of the state.
I had the chance to take a deeper dive with Jacobson via email on Wednesday. He took the time to answer these following questions:
What do you say to the critics who say it is not feasible for California, Massachusetts (or any other state) to get to 100 percent clean energy?
Jacobson: They speak without having every studied the issue or examined the numbers, including the ability to keep the grid stable or the costs of energy.
What are some of the specific benefits for California and Massachusetts if they transition to clean energy?
Jacobson: Create more net long-term jobs than lost, stabilize energy prices because the fuel costs of wind and solar are zero, reduce the costs of energy since onshore wind and large-scale solar are the least expensive forms of new energy in the U.S. today, eliminate 13,000 air pollution deaths and hundreds of thousands of illnesses in California alone saving 3 percent of the GDP, reduce terrorism and catastrophic risk because of the more distributed nature of the grid and reduce dependence on foreign energy.
What are some of the biggest obstacles (i.e. technology, politics, fossil fuel industry) for states to get to 100 percent clean energy?
Jacobson: Lack of information and people with a financial interest in the current infrastructure. Once people have full information about the transition and its benefits, most are likely to support the transition. Ninety percent of the blockade to faster progress is due to individuals and companies that have a financial interest in the current infrastructure thus profit over it not happening.
Are you working with any of the legislators who have proposed these 100 percent clean energy bills? If so, who? And, what role is The Solutions Project playing in helping states advance renewable energy policies?
Jacobson: We provide information to all parties who request it, thus our goal is not partisan. It is purely to help facilitate the healthiest and cleanest future for Americans and the world.
How do you feel about President Trump and his administration's pro-fossil fuel agenda? Does it make the push to 100 percent clean energy harder?
Jacobson: The transition will occur regardless of what President Trump wants or does because costs are favorable and most people want healthy air and lower energy prices, and see all the benefits in terms of jobs, price stability, health and security that clean, renewable energy provides.
By Jeff Masters
Here's a 2017 New Year's resolution I'd like to see the nations of the world adopt: an immediate international effort to invest in a world where 100 percent of our electricity will be generated by wind, water and solar power by 2050.
Such an effort is technically and economically feasible and has been championed by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson since 2009. His latest research on the subject was laid out in a series of talks last month in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union—the world's largest conference on climate change.
During his talks, Jacobson outlined a plan to power 139 nations of the world for all purposes—including electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry and agriculture/forestry/fishing—using a mix of approximately 37 percent wind, 58 percent solar, 4 percent hydropower, and 1 percent geothermal, wave and tidal power. He argued that his plan would:
1. Replace 80 percent of business-as-usual power by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.
2. Reduce power consumption by 42.5 percent because of electricity's better work:energy ratio, efficiency and lack of mining needed.
3. Create 24.3 million more jobs than lost.
4. Eliminate 3.5 million premature air pollution deaths per year and save $23 trillion (7.6 percent of GDP) in air pollution health costs per year by 2050 (for comparison: the World Bank estimated in 2016 that air pollution in 2013 killed 5.5 million people, with non-health care costs of more than $5 trillion).
5. Save $28.5 trillion per year in avoided climate change costs by potentially keeping global warming 1.5 C below pre-industrial levels.
6. Reduce war by creating energy-independent countries.
7. Decentralize energy production, thereby reducing power outages, terrorism threats to energy installations and energy poverty.
Dr. Mark Jacobson of Stanford addresses an audience in San Francisco at the annual meeting of The American Geophysical Union on Dec. 17, 2016.
Ok, this New Year's resolution does not come cheap. The up-front cost of such an energy system is $124.7 trillion for converting the 139 nations of the world Dr. Jacobson studied. However, it's critical to consider the savings, not just the costs. He estimates that by 2050, a $85 per person per year savings in electricity costs will be realized using a 100 percent wind, water and solar powered world compared to the current business-as-usual system. This does not include the savings due to reduced air pollution and reduced climate change costs, which would be an additional $5,800 per person per year.
Figure 2Dr. Mark Jacobson / Stanford
Figure 2: The total surface area (in square kilometers) of the Earth including oceans (large blue circle) and land surface area of the 139 countries studied (pink circle) are compared to the areal footprint of the renewable energy systems (beyond what was installed as of 2015) needed to provide 100 percent of power by 2050 in Dr. Jacobson's road map. The plan requires approximately 653,200 square km offshore wind turbines, 1,105,000 square km of onshore wind turbines, 87,410 square km of rooftop solar photovoltaic panels and 260,500 square km of photovoltaic and concentrated solar power systems run by utility companies. For hydropower, no new installations are proposed, so the additional footprint is zero. About 1 percent of the world's land area would be needed for the power systems proposed.
His road map to a 100 percent renewable energy future uses existing generator technologies, along with existing electrical transportation, heating/cooling and industrial devices and appliances. Electricity storage is done using existing storage technologies—concentrated solar power with storage, pumped hydroelectric storage and existing heat/cold storage technologies (water, ice and rocks). No stationary storage batteries, biomass, nuclear power, carbon capture or natural gas are required. No new dams would be needed, but existing dams would by made more efficient. Aircraft flying less than 600 km would be electric and those flying longer distances would be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
He modeled the seasonal and daily variation in solar energy and wind power in the 139 countries, with storage and was able to show that the power grid was stable—the load on the grid matched the electricity supply. The 2.5 million wind turbines required would cause approximately a 0.6 percent reduction in world's average wind speed, which he argued should not cause major disturbances to the weather. Dr. Jacobson acknowledged that political obstacles would make his plan difficult to implement, but stressed that a solution to global warming is technically and economically feasible.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.
One megawatt of solar power was installed every 32 minutes in the U.S. from July to September, for a record total of 4,143 megawatts of new, clean energy, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research's U.S. Solar Market Insight report.
That brings total installed solar capacity in the U.S. to 35.8 gigawatts, enough to power 6.5 million homes. Solar power may double from 2015 to 2016. SEIA said.
Rapid growth in solar power installations continued in 2016.Source: Solar Energy Industries Association
"The United States solar market just shattered all previous quarterly solar photovoltaic (PV) installation records," stated SEIA.
Through the end of September, solar accounted for 39 percent of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S. Both utility-scale installations and residential installations grew strongly. Electric power utilities accounted for 77 percent of additions to the grid, while both corporate and residential customers added capacity as well.
"The solar market now enjoys an economically-winning hand that pays off both financially and environmentally, and American taxpayers have noticed," said Tom Kimbis, SEIA's interim president.
Community solar represents another growing trend. In these programs, both residential and business customers share a large, central installation. These work well for renters and condo owners, homeowners who can't install rooftop solar panels or owners of historic buildings that are not permitted to alter the structure.
Currently, 25 states have active community solar projects, serving both cities and smaller communities. In Boulder, Colorado, the sold-out Boulder Cowdery Meadows Solar Array generates 496,455 kilowatts. A 52-kilowatt installation is up and running in Wayne, Maine, serving nine Central Maine Power customers. Other projects can be found in Orlando, Seattle and Springfield, Missouri.
Community solar is expected to add 200 megawatts this year, a fourfold increase over 2015 according to SEIA. Much of the demand is being driven by the nosedive in solar system costs. Overall pricing fell by 6.9 percent in the 3rd quarter, with costs now below $3 per watt.
"The phenomenal boom in U.S. solar is being driven by dramatically lowering solar costs, to the point where solar is in many cases now the most affordable power and smartest investment for homeowners, businesses, and cities," said Glen Brand, Maine chapter director for the Sierra Club. "And this is despite the enormous subsidies for dirty fossil fuels and the coordinated attacks on state solar policy by monopoly, private utilities."
Municipalities, which are often large users of electricity for government buildings, streetlights and other needs are adding cost-effective solar as well. The village of Minster, Ohio, was the first. A 3-megawatt solar array is saving the town $1 million per month.
Peterborough, New Hampshire, completed its 1-megawatt installation in 2015 and Portland, Maine, plans to build a 660-kilowatt solar project on an a closed landfill that will power city hall and the 1,900-seat Merrill Auditorium.
Looking ahead, SEIA forecasts a decline in new installations in 2017 and 2018. Some near-term pullbacks are due to delays in utility connection projects, which currently see an 8-gigawatt backlog. SEIA expects growth to resume in 2019.
The article by Eduardo Porter, How Renewable Energy is Blowing Climate Change Efforts Off Course, serves as a flagship for an on-going attack on the growth of renewables. It is so convoluted and inaccurate that it requires a detailed response.
Our planet is burning up from fossil fuels and being irradiated by decrepit money-losing reactors that blow up. Blaming renewable energy for all that is like blaming the peace movement for causing wars.
As Mark Jacobson, director of Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, pointed out to me via email:
The New York Times article "suffers from the inaccurate assumption that existing expensive nuclear that is shut down will be replaced by natural gas. This is impossible in California, for example, since gas is currently 60 percent of electricity supply but state law requires non-large-hydro clean renewables to be 50 percent by 2030. This means that, with the shuttering of Diablo Canyon nuclear facility be 2025, gas can by no greater than 35-44 percent of California supply since clean renewables will be at least 50 percent (and probably much more) and large hydro will be 6-15 percent. As such, gas must go down no matter what. In fact, 100 percent of all new electric power in Europe in 2015 was clean, renewable energy with no new net gas, and 70 percent of all new energy in the U.S. was clean and renewable, so the fact is nuclear is not being replaced by gas but by clean, renewable energy.
"Further, the article fails to consider the fact that the cost of keeping nuclear open is often much greater than the cost of replacing the nuclear with wind or solar. For example, three upstate New York nuclear plants require $7.6 billion in subsidies from the state to stay open 12 years. To stay open after that, they will need an additional $805 million/year at a minimum, or at least $17.7 billion from 2028-2050, or a total of $25.3 billion from 2016 to 2050. If, on the other hand, those three plants were replaced with wind today, the total cost between now and 2050 would be $11.9 billion. Thus, keeping the nuclear plants open 12 years costs an additional $7.6 billion; keeping it open 34 years costs and additional $25.3 billion, in both cases with zero additional climate benefit, in comparison with shuttering the three plants today and replacing them with onshore wind."
Gideon Forman, climate change and transportation policy analyst at David Suzuki Foundation, also shared his dismay on the Times piece:
"The notion that non-renewable power sources are necessary is questionable at best. Some scientists believe that, over the next few decades, renewables could provide all our power. One is Stanford Prof. Mark Jacobson. He has done modeling to show the U.S. could be entirely powered by renewables by 2050.
"Porter is wrong to claim that nuclear produces 'zero-carbon electricity.' If we look at the full nuclear cycle, including production of uranium fuel, we find it involves considerable carbon emissions. Jacobson and his co-author, Mark A. Delucchi, have written, 'Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.'
"Porter says if American nuclear plants were replaced with gas-fired generators it would lead to 200 million tons of additional CO2 emissions annually. But it's wrong to suggest that nuclear could only be replaced by natural gas. A full suite of renewables—along with energy storage and conservation programs—could meet demand, certainly in the not very distant future.
"Porter suggests that nuclear power can 'stay on all the time.' But of course, nuclear plants, like all generators, are sometimes out of service for maintenance. This downtime can be considerable. For example, it is expected that from 2017 to 2021, Ontario's Pickering nuclear station will require back-up almost 30 percent of the time."
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, called the Times piece "outrageous." He told me:
"The Times piece continues the paper's long record of minimizing and downplaying—not recognizing and indeed often denying—the deadly impacts of nuclear power. It's been a shameful journalistic dysfunction. As Alden Whitman, a Times reporter for 25 years, told me, 'there certainly was never any effort made to do' in-depth or investigative reporting on nuclear power. 'I think there stupidity involved,' he said, and further, 'The Times regards itself as part of the establishment." Or as Anna Mayo of The Village Voice related: 'I built a full-time career on covering nuclear horror stories that the New York Times neglected.'"
So where do I stand on the Porter piece? Here are my eight biggest complaints:
1. Though viewed as the "journal of record," the Times has been consistently pro-nuclear. Its slanted coverage has served as an industry bulwark for decades. A long-time atomic beat reporter, Matt Wald, went straight from the Times to a job with the Nuclear Energy Institute, the primary public relations front for the reactor industry. The Times has a long history as a cheerleader for nuclear power dating back to the atomic bomb era, when it consistently denied health problems from radioactive fallout. It also denied health problems resulting from radiation releases at Three Mile Island, and much more. Now it has taken a major role in defending the nuclear industry from the renewable energy revolution that is driving it to bankruptcy while bringing a tsunami of reactor shut downs. It's these shut downs that now seem to worry the paper.
2. The primary technological transition in the world of electric power today is from fossil and nuclear fuels (King CONG: Coal, Oil, Nukes, Gas) to a Solartopian system based on green power. But there's a deeper shift going on: from centralized, grid-based corporate control to decentralized citizen-based community control. When nuclear power and its apologists defend continued operations at dangerously deteriorated reactors, they are more broadly defending the power and profits of huge corporations that are completely invested in a centralized grid. When they argue that renewables "can't do the job," they're in fact working to prolong the lives of the large generators that are the "base load" basis of a corporate grid-based supply system.
3. But that grid is now obsolete. What strikes the ultimate terror in utility boardrooms is the revolutionary reality of a decentralized power supply, free of large generators, comprised instead of millions of small photovoltaic (PV) panels owned by individuals. Industry sources have widely confirmed that this decentralized, post-grid model means the end of big utilities. Thus when they fight against PV and for nuclear power, they are fighting not for the life of the planet, but for the survival of their own corporate profits.
4. Some utilities do support some renewables, but primarily in the form of large centralized grid-based solar and wind turbine farms. Pacific Gas & Electric said it will replace the power from the Diablo Canyon nuke plant with solar energy. But PG&E is simultaneously fighting rooftop solar, which will allow individual homeowners to disconnect from the grid. Germany's transition from fossil-nukes to renewables has also been marked by conflict between large grid-based wind farms versus small community-based renewables.
5. PG&E and other major utilities are fighting against net metering and other programs that promote small-scale renewables. The Koch Brothers' American Legislature Exchange Council (ALEC) has spread a wide range of taxes and disincentives passed by the states to make it ever-harder to go solar. All this is being done to preserve the grid-based monopolies that own large fossil/nuclear facilities.
6. The idea that nuclear power might fight climate change, and that environmentalists might support it, is a recent concoction, a disgraceful, desperate load of utility hype meant to defend the status quo. Fukushima, unsolved waste problems and the plummeting price of renewables have solidified the environmental community's opposition to nuke power. These reactors are dirty and dangerous. They are not carbon-free and do emit huge quantities of heated water and steam into the ecosphere. The utility industry can't get private liability insurance for them, and relies on the 1957 Price-Anderson Act to protect them from liability in a major catastrophe. The industry continually complains about subsidies to renewable energy but never mentions this government protection program without which all reactors would close.
7. Not just nuke power but the entire centralized fossil/nuke-based grid system is now being undermined by the massive drops in the price of renewable energy, and massive rises in its efficiency and reliability. The critical missing link is battery technology. Because the sun and wind are intermittent, there needs to be energy storage to smooth out supply. Elon Musk's billion-dollar Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada and many other industrial ventures indicate major battery breakthroughs in storage is here today.
8. Porter's NY Times piece correctly says that the massive amounts of cheap, clean renewables flooding the grid in Europe and parts of the U.S. are driving nuclear power plants into bankruptcy. At least a dozen reactor shut downs have been announced in the U.S. since 2012 and many more are on their way. In Japan 52 of the 54 reactors online before the Fukushima disaster are now closed. And, Germany has pledged to shut all its reactors by 2022.
But Porter attacks this by complaining that those nukes were supplying base load power that must be otherwise—according to him—shored up with fossil burners. Here's his key line:
"Renewable sources are producing temporary power gluts from Australia to California, driving out other energy sources that are still necessary to maintain a stable supply of power."
But as all serious environmentalists understand, the choice has never been between nukes versus fossil fuels. It's between centralized fossil/nukes versus decentralized renewables.
Porter's article never mentions the word "battery" or the term "rooftop solar." But these are the two key parts in the green transition already very much in progress.
So here is what the Times obviously can't bring itself to say: "Cheap solar panels on rooftops are now making the grid obsolete." The key bridging element of battery back-up capability is on its way. Meanwhile there is absolutely no need for nuclear power plants, which at any rate have long since become far too expensive to operate.
Spending billions to prop up dying nuke reactors for "base load" generation is pure corporate theft at the public expense, both in straight financial terms and in the risk of running badly deteriorated reactors deep into the future until they inevitably melt down or blow up.
Those billions instead should go to accelerating battery production and distribution, and making it easier, rather than harder, to gain energy independence using the wind and the sun.
All this has serious real-world impacts. In Ohio, for example, a well-organized shift to wind and solar was derailed by the Koch-run legislature. Some $2 billion in wind-power investments and a $500 million solar farm were derailed. There are also serious legal barriers now in place to stop homeowners from putting solar shingles and panels on their rooftops.
Meanwhile, FirstEnergy strong-armed the Ohio Public Utilities Commission into approving a huge bailout to keep the seriously deteriorated Davis-Besse nuke operating, even though it cannot compete and is losing huge sums of money. Federal regulators have since put that bailout on hold.
Arizona and other Koch-owned legislatures have moved to tax solar panels, ban solar shingles and make it illegal to leave the grid without still paying tribute to the utilities who own it. Indeed, throughout the U.S. and much of the western world, corporate-owned governments are doing their best to slow the ability of people to use renewables to rid themselves of the corporate grid.
For an environmental movement serious about saving the Earth from climate change, this is a temporary barrier. The Times and its pro-nuke allies in the corporate media will continue to twist reality. But the Solartopian revolution is proceeding ahead of schedule and under budget. A renewable, decentralized energy system is very much in sight.
The only question is how long corporate nonsense like this latest NY Times screed can delay this vital transition. Our planet is burning up from fossil fuels and being irradiated by decrepit money-losing reactors that blow up. Blaming renewable energy for all that is like blaming the peace movement for causing wars.
The centralized King CONG grid and its obsolete owners are at the core of the problem. So are the corporate media outlets like the New York Times that try to hide that obvious reality.
Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at www.solartopia.org, where his
AMERICA AT THE BRINK OF REBIRTH: THE ORGANIC SPIRAL OF US HISTORY is soon to arrive. He edits www.nukefree.org and hosts the Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show at www.prn.fm.