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100% WWS Part 3: Jacobson’s New Study Leans Into The Green New Deal

While Jacobson’s latest Stanford study on 100% renewables by 2050 will draw fire for leaning into the Green New Deal, it strongly supports that policy.

Jacobson and team have just released a new study covering 100% renewables for 143 countries representing 99.7% of fossil fuel CO2 emissions. It’s an update and maintains the mix of technologies, omitting nuclear and CCS. Expect more pushback from people who don’t accept the empirical realities related to those technologies. My assessment of various aspects of the report will be broken down into three chunks of roughly equal size around specific subsets of the topic.

The first covered the global costs and massive savings associated with the transition. The second covered storage and transmission, highlighting that this is a conservative, not radical approach. This piece covers off the interesting question of how people will perceive the study’s explicit support and expansion globally of the Green New Deal’s core electrical generation and electrification targets.

It’s going to create fireworks because it’s explicit about leaning into the Green New Deal. That eminently sensible set of targets, strongly aligned with the UN IPCC 1.5 degree reports and strongly aligned with the Roosevelt New Deal that arguably did make America great, is understandably a large target for commentators from the right, but also from nuclear advocates. I’ve published an exegesis based on a conversation with a US conservative about the GND as well, and know how much of a straw man flashpoint it’s become.

“The U.S. GND contains additional proposed legislation related to jobs, health care, education, and social justice. The present study does not fully evaluate the costs or merits of these other components.”

One point of potential conflict that Jacobson et al. attempts to avoid are the things that were all in the Roosevelt New Deal but are flash points on the right at present, the things that are not explicitly tied to climate change mitigation or adaptation, but to economic, jobs, and social elements. As I pointed out in my piece on one of the few almost reasonable discussions I’ve managed with someone from the right about the GND, all of the elements that the right complains about are tied both to the historical antecedent of the US New Deal and to the realities of climate change adaption. There is no disconnect except in rhetoric.

And that’s why Jacobson avoiding this aspect of the GND won’t matter to the rhetoric that will arise attacking this new report. Sadly, they will see Green New Deal and all of the irrational straw men that they apply to it will be applied to this as well.

But that doesn’t make Jacobson’s choice wrong at all. Once again, consilience applies to the Green New Deal as well, and this is a strong piece of evidence that supports its goals and targets. Jacobson’s status as a Top 100 Global Influencer on Climate lends more support as well. In #Election2020, Americans will be offered a stark choice between a Democratic Presidential candidate who is leaning into the GND — all of them do — and the Republicans, with a lot of people saying that climate action is necessary and that the Green New Deal will not only address it sensibly, but bring US workers along with it.

Jacobson’s work also points out the good jobs that will be created by this energy transition as well, so while it’s silent on the GND aspects, it still ties into its themes there as well.

“WWS creates 28.6 million more long-term, full-time jobs than BAU and needs only ~0.17% and ~0.48% of land for new footprint and spacing, respectively. […] This is equivalent to about 1.85 times California’s land area for virtually all world energy. In comparison, about 37.4% of the world’s land was agricultural land in 2016 and 2.5% was urban area in 2010″

A related note on the public relations battle are the points in the study. Once again, an introductory line is buffered with content from material later in the study.

This portion of the study talks to the ongoing attacks on renewables by advocates of both nuclear energy and the fossil fuel industry, finding common cause to attack the technologies which are disrupting their revenues and profits. The amount of land actually required for renewables globally is a tiny fraction of what’s available. I’ve run these numbers myself in CleanTechnica, finding that if we just wanted to use wind energy, a space smaller than the tiny state of Delaware would be required.

The distributed nature of renewables just isn’t a real concern, in other words, but a drummed up meme, and in any event the cost of land is costed into the cost of electricity, and renewables are vastly cheaper than nuclear, coal and increasingly gas generation without negative externalities or subsidies.

“… studies among at least 11 independent research groups have found that transitioning to 100% renewable energy in one or all energy sectors, while keeping the electricity and/or heat grids stable at reasonable cost, is possible”

Consilience is one of my favorite words pertaining to the scientific method. It means that when multiple sources of evidence are in agreement, the conclusion can be very strong even when none of the individual sources of evidence is significantly so on its own. The science of climate change shows massive consilience, as ice cores, satellite data, ground temperature data, tree rings, isotopic analysis and more show strong agreement that climate change is real, serious, and caused by us.

When you have multiple studies using different data sets and approaches on a given subject and are finding agreement, you can be much more sure of the results. This quote from the report references a lot of other groups that find the same thing Jacobson and team do. I’ve referenced Mark Diesendorf’s work out of Australia several times, and his work is cited in Jacobson’s new report as well.

100% renewables shows strong consilience of research and evidence. It’s very possible. Another meme from those opposed to renewables or those strongly attached to alternatives debunked.

Jacobson and his team at Stanford have evolved this model over years, seeing very significant and public criticism of it, criticism which this report addresses explicitly and carefully. Those people still claiming that 100% renewables isn’t achievable in economically viable ways need to reconsider their positions. For lay people, suffice it to say that in 30 years it’s very easy for us to have much cleaner air and water and much less expensive energy without suffering any degradation of our standards of living.

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Written By

is Board Observer and Strategist for Agora Energy Technologies a CO2-based redox flow startup, a member of the Advisory Board of ELECTRON Aviation an electric aviation startup, Chief Strategist at TFIE Strategy and co-founder of distnc technologies. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future, and assisting executives, Boards and investors to pick wisely today. Whether it's refueling aviation, grid storage, vehicle-to-grid, or hydrogen demand, his work is based on fundamentals of physics, economics and human nature, and informed by the decarbonization requirements and innovations of multiple domains. His leadership positions in North America, Asia and Latin America enhanced his global point of view. He publishes regularly in multiple outlets on innovation, business, technology and policy. He is available for Board, strategy advisor and speaking engagements.


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