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Published on December 8th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan

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Renewable Energy Is Possible, Practical, & Cheaper (Than Nuclear Or Fossil Fuels)

December 8th, 2015 by  


Since I spent so much time writing the addendum to this article, I figured I should better highlight the key points in a separate post. They tackle various myths regarding renewable energy and nuclear energy. Slightly edited from that addendum, below are key notes on renewable energy’s ability to take over in the electricity sector (and that basically includes transport as well, since the expectation is that most passenger transport will switch to electrification). The financial/economic side of this story is, of course, critical, so that is also brought into play. Enjoy, and share with colleagues.

Some highly respected and accomplished climate scientists have jumped into activism in the energy field. However, they seem to be out of touch with rigorous research that has been done by trained energy researchers and are spreading unhelpful myths regarding renewable energy, just as Richard Muller was out of touch with the research that had been conducted in the climate science sphere and arrogantly thought he would correct climate scientists… only to later find they had done their jobs well. Perhaps there is a tendency for esteemed researchers to think they can jump into another realm and quickly know the full story based on a handful of disconnected-from-the-big-picture stats or statements that they are handed. Or there’s something else at play, but I’m not sure what it would be. It would be an interesting topic for CleanTechnica to research.

70–100% Renewable Electricity With Current Technology

One of the world’s preeminent energy scientists (not climate scientists) — Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson — has led research teams that have analyzed electricity demand and potential supply from renewables in every US state and nearly every country in the world in 15-minute segments all throughout the entire year. They have found 100% renewables is indeed a practical possibility. Disagreeing with Jacobson and his team of researchers is akin to disagreeing with Hansen and his team on comprehensive and in-depth climate science research.

Energy researchers at the University of Delaware (UD) and Delaware Technical College (DTCC) have found that, “by 2030, renewable energy could power a large electrical grid a stunning 99.9%, and at close to today’s energy costs!”

A NOAA study found that renewables could supply the US with 70% of its electricity needs by 2030. The lead researcher was Sandy MacDonald, director of the earth system research lab at NOAA. Do the climate scientists spreading anti-renewable myths not realize that NOAA has done this research? Or are they blatantly disagreeing with NOAA, just as global warming deniers have blatantly disagreed with NASA regarding climate science? From our article about the NOAA study when it first came out:

“NOAA embarked on the renewables project three years ago, collating 16 billion pieces of weather data derived from satellite observations and airplane observations and weather station reports,” Scott Simpson of the Vancouver Sun writes.

“Then it designed a program to filter the information to remove unlikely venues for wind or solar power arrays – such as national parks and urban areas – and came up with a map showing robust wind resources in the middle of the continent and decent ones in the northeast Atlantic states, as well as strong solar production areas in the desert southwest.”

But here’s where the NOAA researchers stepped beyond the good to the great, research-wise: they balanced potential power production and electricity demand to determine, how, where, when, and to what extent clean energy could produce the electricity we need. The end result — 70% of electricity demand — is huge (although, not much of a surprise to CleanTechnica readers, I imagine).

A WWF study has shown how to get Europe to 100% renewable energy by 2050 (this includes transport).

An analysis published in Energy Strategy Reviews by three researchers with PhDs in physics — Kees van der LeunYvonne Deng, and Kornelis Blok — has found that 95% of the world could be powered by renewable energy with no technological breakthroughs.

An in-depth NREL study has found that we could power 80% the US with already commercially available clean, renewable energy technology by 2050. Again, no technological breakthroughs needed.

More studies coming to similar findings can be found here.

All of these energy researchers are wrong, eh? Because… well, it’s unclear even where the claims against these findings come from. It’s unclear what studies these climate scientists are referencing when they say renewables can’t do the job.

I’ve seen no research comparable to the research above that makes their argument. If anyone has anything like this, I’d love to have a look and I’m sure CleanTechnica readers would be happy to explore it as well.


Renewable Energy Is Cheaper, Too

Jumping over to cost, since that’s what it comes down to in a market-driven economy, let’s first recognize that nuclear subsidies have dwarfed renewable energy subsidies, even in Germany, where solar and wind now account for much of the country’s electricity. Nonetheless, nuclear power is approximately 2–3 times more expensive than wind energy and approximately twice as expensive as utility-scale solar.

On average, wind power sold for 2.5¢/kWh in the US in 2013, which would be 4¢/kWh if you removed subsidies (but why would you do that when nuclear has received several times more money in subsidies?).

Utility-scale solar now averages 5¢/kWh in the US, which doesn’t even hold the record for the cheapest solar power bid on the planet.

Nuclear is approximately 10–14¢/kWh… as long as you don’t count the hundreds of billions of dollars it costs to decommission nuclear power plants, among other things. Add everything up and nuclear may well cost 46¢/kWh, a good (er… bad) 9 times more than solar and 12–20 times more than wind.

Ah, but that is only from the dominant type of nuclear power that we all think about when we think about nuclear power — that’s not the different type of unproven nuclear that these climate scientists and Bill gates are pushing. If we would just prioritize this, we could perhaps have competitive nuclear in a few decades, right?… Er, what?

Aside from the absurdly long delay for what is still an unproven and expensive solution, by 2030, solar panels are expected to drop from 62¢/watt today to 21¢/watt in 2040… with no technological “breakthroughs.” Conservatively, we could expect the average electricity price of utility-scale solar power to drop to 2.5¢/kWh. Wind costs are also expected to keep dropping, so it is likely to remain the cheapest electricity option (beyond negawatts, that is — which are essentially impossible to beat).

Is nuclear energy somehow going to drop from 46¢/kWh to 2¢/kWh? Should we prioritize a unicorn nuclear energy option that was developed decades ago and has never been able to compete with conventional nuclear energy, let alone fossil fuels or today’s solar and wind?

Honestly, how can anyone who knows the energy landscape well not be a little bewildered by the push for expensive, impractical, slow-to-deploy nuclear from people who clearly want to address global warming?

Again, I’m genuinely curious where these rightfully esteemed climate scientists who I love have obtained their electricity-related information. Perhaps we’ll dig in and see if we can resolve “the case of the renewable energy deniers.”

Since I included Mark’s Renewable Cities PechaKucha speech above, I’ll also include mine, which delves into the cost side of the equation a little bit:


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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species). He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. He's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.



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