Last August, Mark Jacobson, a renewable energy expert and senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University, was the leader of a study that identified how 139 countries around the world could obtain 100% of their energy from renewable sources by 2050. But that study got some pushback from people who questioned its assumptions. The naysayers said the study relied too heavily on energy storage solutions such as adding turbines to existing hydroelectric dams or storing excess energy in water, ice, and underground rocks.
A Response To Critics
Those criticisms stimulated another piece of work from Jacobson and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley and Aalborg University in Denmark. They are now back with a new report they believe thoroughly addresses the concerns brought up by skeptics of the first report. It begins by breaking those 139 counties into 20 regions and proposing energy storage solutions uniquely suited to each region.
Here’s how Jacobson summarized the work and the findings in an email to CleanTechnica:
The previous paper (in Joule) estimated the number of devices in each of 139 countries needed to provide power for each country in the annual average with 100% wind, water, and solar (WWS).
This new paper takes the next step, which is to divide the 139 countries into 20 world regions, then to see if the grid can stay stable in each region every 30 seconds for 5 years, and what is the resulting cost.
Utilities and policy makers alike are concerned that all the wind and solar we propose for the annual average numbers in the first paper won’t allow the grid to stay stable — that the lights will go out. This is the biggest barrier for the large-scale implementation of renewables.
This paper new shows that there is not only one solution but multiple solutions to the grid reliability problem — thus large penetrations of renewables can indeed keep the grid stable at low cost.
In addition, we find that the wind turbines needed would reduce global warming by ~3% and quickly. That is a new conclusion as well.
That sounds good. Will policy makers and utilities listen now? That’s the trillion-dollar question. Either way, it will certainly help fill out the CleanTechnica Answer Box.
“Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” Jacobson said for his university press team at Stanford.
“This solution would go a long way toward eliminating global warming and the 4–7 million air pollution-related deaths that occur worldwide each year, while also providing energy security. Our main result is that there are multiple solutions to the problem,” he says. “This is important because the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people’s perception that it’s too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output.”
20 Global Regions
The new study was published on February 8 in the journal Renewable Energy. “Unlike the previous 139-country study, which matched energy supply with annual-average demand, the present study matches supply and demand in 30-second increments for 5 years (2050-2054) to account for the variability in wind and solar power as well as the variability in demand over hours and seasons,” according to the study summary.
Grid resiliency is a phrase that is much in the news these days. Alleged energy secretary Rick Perry has claimed the US must continue to rely on nuclear and coal power because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Therefore, any fool (even Rick Perry) can see that we need lots of highly polluting “baseload” generating capacity to keep the lights on. We’ve tackled that claim ourselves a few dozen times, but we do think Jacobson’s new study does a slight better job.
“Not so,” say Jacobson and his colleagues. The new study identified three separate energy storage models and failed to identify one scenario in the 5 years studied in which blackouts due to lack of electrical energy would would occur. “The fact that no blackouts occurred under three different scenarios suggests that many possible solutions to grid stability with 100 percent wind, water and solar power are possible, a conclusion that contradicts previous claims that the grid cannot stay stable with such high penetrations of just renewables.” Johnson, et al, foresee the world getting to 80% renewables by 2035 and to 100% renewables by 2050.
The research finds that the cost of renewable energy is about 75% less than with traditional generation systems. Much of the lower cost comes from avoiding the health costs associated with breathing polluted air. It also shows that the total amount of energy needed to produce electricity will be about half of traditional methods. “The vast amount of these energy savings come from avoiding the energy needed to mine, transport and refine fossil fuels, converting from combustion to direct electricity, and using heat pumps instead of conventional heaters and air conditioners.”
Danger! Hard Work Ahead!
Meeting the 100% renewable goal is going to require an unprecedented amount of cooperation between nations — something humanity is not famous for. We have touched on this subject recently.
“Ideally, you’d have cooperation in deciding where you’re going to put the wind farms, where you’re going to put the solar panels, where you’re going to put the battery storage,” Jacobson says. “The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time.”
Mindful of the geopolitical implications, he and his colleagues are working on smaller road maps to help individual communities, many of which have already committed to achieving 100% renewable energy. Figuring out how to transition to 100% renewable energy may be the easy part. Convincing people to commit to the process is where the hard work will begin.
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