Shifting the world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy as early as 2030 -- here are the numbers

Oct 19, 2009
Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has coauthored an article that is the cover story in the November issue of Scientific American. The article presents new research mapping out and evaluating a quantitative plan for powering the entire world on wind, water and solar energy, including an assessment of the materials needed and costs. And it will ultimately be cheaper than sticking with fossil fuel or going nuclear. Credit: Linda Cicero, Stanford University News Service

Most of the technology needed to shift the world from fossil fuel to clean, renewable energy already exists. Implementing that technology requires overcoming obstacles in planning and politics, but doing so could result in a 30 percent decrease in global power demand, say Stanford civil and environmental engineering Professor Mark Z. Jacobson and University of California-Davis researcher Mark Delucchi.

To make clear the extent of those hurdles - and how they could be overcome - they have written an article that is the cover story in the November issue of Scientific American. In it, they present new research mapping out and evaluating a quantitative plan for powering the entire world on wind, water and solar , including an assessment of the materials needed and costs. And it will ultimately be cheaper than sticking with fossil fuel or going nuclear, they say.

The key is turning to wind, water and to generate - making a massive commitment to them - and eliminating combustion as a way to generate power for vehicles as well as for normal electricity use.

The problem lies in the use of and biomass combustion, which are notoriously inefficient at producing usable energy. For example, when gasoline is used to power a vehicle, at least 80 percent of the energy produced is wasted as heat.

With vehicles that run on electricity, it's the opposite. Roughly 80 percent of the energy supplied to the vehicle is converted into motion, with only 20 percent lost as heat. Other combustion devices can similarly be replaced with electricity or with hydrogen produced by electricity.

Jacobson and Delucchi used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to project that if the world's current mix of is maintained, global energy demand at any given moment in 2030 would be 16.9 terawatts, or 16.9 million megawatts.

They then calculated that if no combustion of fossil fuel or biomass were used to generate energy, and virtually everything was powered by electricity - either for direct use or hydrogen production - the demand would be only 11.5 terawatts. That's only two-thirds of the energy that would be needed if fossil fuels were still in the mix.

In order to convert to wind, water and solar, the world would have to build wind turbines; solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar arrays; and geothermal, tidal, wave and hydroelectric power sources to generate the electricity, as well as transmission lines to carry it to the users, but the long-run net savings would more than equal the costs, according to Jacobson and Delucchi's analysis.

"If you make this transition to renewables and electricity, then you eliminate the need for 13,000 new or existing coal plants," Jacobson said. "Just by changing our infrastructure we have less power demand."

Jacobson and Delucchi chose to use wind, water and solar energy options based on a quantitative evaluation Jacobson did last year of about a dozen of the different alternative energy options that were getting the most attention in public and political discussions and in the media. He compared their potential for producing energy, how secure an energy source each was, and their impacts on human health and the environment.

He determined that the best overall energy sources were wind, water and solar options. His results were published in Energy and Environmental Science.

The Scientific American article provides a quantification of global solar and wind resources based on new research by Jacobson and Delucchi.

Analyzing only on-land locations with a high potential for producing power, they found that even if wind were the only method used to generate power, the potential for production is 5 to 15 times greater than what is needed to power the entire world. For solar energy, the comparable calculation found that solar could produce about 30 times the amount needed.

If the world built just enough wind and solar installations to meet the projected demand for the scenario outlined in the article, an area smaller than the borough of Manhattan would be sufficient for the wind turbines themselves. Allowing for the required amount of space between the turbines boosts the needed acreage up to 1 percent of Earth's land area, but the spaces between could be used for crops or grazing. The various non-rooftop solar power installations would need about a third of 1 percent of the world's land, so altogether about 1.3 percent of the land surface would suffice.

The study further provides examples of how a combination of renewable energy sources could be used to meet hour-by-hour power demand, addressing the commonly asked question, given the inherent variability of wind speed and sunshine, can these sources consistently produce enough power? The answer is yes.

Expanding the transmission grid would be critical for the shift to the sustainable energy sources that Jacobson and Delucchi propose. New transmission lines would have to be laid to carry power from new wind farms and solar power plants to users, and more transmission lines will be needed to handle the overall increase in the quantity of electric power being generated.

The researchers also determined that the availability of certain materials that are needed for some of the current technologies, such as lithium for lithium-ion batteries, or platinum for fuel cells, are not currently barriers to building a large-scale renewable infrastructure. But efforts will be needed to ensure that such materials are recycled and potential alternative materials are explored.

Finally, they conclude that perhaps the most significant barrier to the implementation of their plan is the competing energy industries that currently dominate political lobbying for available financial resources. But the technologies being promoted by the dominant energy industries are not renewable and even the cleanest of them emit significantly more carbon and air pollution than wind, water and sun resources, say Jacobson and Delucchi.

If the world allows carbon- and air pollution-emitting energy sources to play a substantial role in the future energy mix, Jacobson said, global temperatures and health problems will only continue to increase.

Source: Stanford University (news : web)

Explore further: Rubber technology important in reducing CO2 emissions

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Do the benefits of renewable energy sources stack up?

Aug 13, 2007

Do the overall efficiencies of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal add up in terms of their complete life cycle from materials sourcing, manufacture, running, and decommissioning? Researchers in ...

MIT team analyzes wind energy potential in Northeast

Jan 02, 2006

There's more to determining the value of wind power than knowing which way the wind blows -- or even how hard. MIT researchers studying winds off the Northeast coast have found that estimating the potential ...

NREL, Xcel energy sign wind to hydrogen research agreement

May 08, 2006

The U.S. Department of Energy's, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Xcel Energy recently signed a cooperative agreement for an innovative "wind to hydrogen" research, development and demonstration project. Researchers ...

Global wind map identifies wind power potential

May 16, 2005

A new global wind power map has quantified global wind power and may help planners place turbines in locations that can maximize power from the winds and provide widely available low-cost energy. After analyzing more than ...

Recommended for you

Paraffins to cut energy consumption in homes

6 hours ago

Thermal energy storage is a common strategy in energy production systems in which the period of production does not coincide with that of consumption. This happens with the production of hot water by means ...

Rubber technology important in reducing CO2 emissions

9 hours ago

Despite numerous measures taken by manufacturers, the worldwide level of CO2 car emissions is still increasing at an alarming rate. The automotive sector is working hard to develop lightweight constructions, ...

EnGo public charging station serves university students

13 hours ago

Kinetic tiles and solar panels are ready to power up mobile devices for people on the go thanks to something called the EnGo charging station. The technology involves a combination of kinetic tiles and solar ...

User comments : 21

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3432682
4 / 5 (8) Oct 19, 2009
Great. And what does it cost?
Velanarris
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 19, 2009
This article assumes that transmission isn't an issue, and also assumes that nuclear means 40 year old fed fission designs.

I don't disagree with the basic concept that higher efficiency is a good thing, I disagree with the false assumptions leading to that concept becomming reality.
DozerIAm
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 19, 2009
This article is sheer lunacy - no mention of financial cost, near term environmental impact, energy loss due to transmission distance, land loss due to new transmission lines, pollution due to wear and tear on all those new batteries... wow. I don't buy that there's enough platinum to make batteries for all the world's commercial utilities AND all the vehicles AND all the homes.

Step 1 for these guys: come up with a newer battery design that is far more efficient (as is, 100 times more efficient). Without that, there's no way to "power the world" without nuke/coal/biomass power plants.
CyberRat
1.3 / 5 (6) Oct 19, 2009
Problem is, if we get cheap clean and enery, the world population would expload.
antialias_physorg
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 19, 2009
Problem is, if we get cheap clean and enery, the world population would expload.

How does this follow? We see a population explosion in the countries which use the LEAST amount of energy - not the most.

This article is sheer lunacy - no mention of financial cost, near term environmental impact, energy loss due to transmission distance,

This answer is sheer lunacy since environmental impact of sticking to the CURRENT way of doing things and the financial cost of sticking to dwindling resources as fuel for our energy needs far, far, FAR outweighs those of the alternative energy model. No one said that alternative energy schemes would be free/non-poluting. But by comparison they are, inthe long term, cheap and eminently eco-friendly.

Just picture the cost of man-made global warming. That will be in so high (if it doesn't kill us all) that we could switch over to other energy schemes for a tiny fraction of it.

BigTone
2.8 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2009
Don't be so hard on the researchers - they set out on a momentous let's save the world conversation... I'm sure its easy to poke a million holes in it, but I think the scientific community would be better served by continually refining and improving this type of global thinking...
GrayMouser
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 19, 2009
"If you make this transition to renewables and electricity, then you eliminate the need for 13,000 new or existing coal plants," Jacobson said. "Just by changing our infrastructure we have less power demand."

Excuse me? If you remove these generation facilities the demand doesn't drop. You have to build capacity to replace them not pretend the usage disappears with the generation facilities.
Caliban
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 20, 2009
Just today-10/19- two stories appear on physorg touting new ways to greatly increase both capture of sunlight and conversion to DC current. We can probably expect further gains in this direction. Solar technology, along with wind and hydro-derived power can be deployed globally, and in many cases can be co-located with or replace existing generation facilities. And since most of the transmission capacity is already in place, it appears possible to replace the fossil fuel burning technology with clean production at a cost and environmental impact that would make it pretty attractive long-term. Not to mention jobs created, and the ability to use carbon-based materials that will have a carbon-capture effect, while at the same time reducing carbon emissions.
Need to look very closely at the numbers, but seems far more effective a strategy than continuing to fuel power generation with a dwindlingly available and ever more expensive resource.
Velanarris
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 20, 2009
Nuclear does all of the above with one exception.

It's a defined output so there's no need for colocation. Why wouldn't you just use nuclear?
ArtflDgr
3.8 / 5 (4) Oct 20, 2009
Caliban,
it takes more energy to make a polysilicon cell than it puts out in its 20 year lifetime.

there isnt enough energy in light, thats why plants dont run.
antialias
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 20, 2009
Excuse me? If you remove these generation facilities the demand doesn't drop. You have to build capacity to replace them not pretend the usage disappears with the generation facilities.

With decentralized production you have less transmission losses. So the demand actually goes down.
It's a defined output so there's no need for colocation. Why wouldn't you just use nuclear?

Because it's a finite energy source and you'd be back to square one. It's also very polluting and costly if you factor in the storage for the waste (and which country will be around for 10000 years to manage that? There isn't a country on this planet that has lasted for more than a two thousand in its current state and not one with a fundamental change of governemental STRUCTURE in the last few hundred e.g. feudal to dictatorship to democracy). Do you really think that under such circumstances anyone can guarantee safe handling of these wastes until they are no longer a grave health hazard?
antialias
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 20, 2009
it takes more energy to make a polysilicon cell than it puts out in its 20 year lifetime.


I think this is no longer true of modern, high efficience solar cells. Certainly not of the organic types.
Velanarris
4.4 / 5 (5) Oct 20, 2009
Because it's a finite energy source and you'd be back to square one. It's also very polluting and costly if you factor in the storage for the waste (and which country will be around for 10000 years to manage that?


That's not true at least not of modern reactors.

Breeder reactors don't require fuel. Just insulation. They generate their own fuel with ZERO waste, other than stray neutrons, which when properly insulated only serve to enrich the transaction.

Secondly, Thorium is one of the most abundant metals in the earth's crust, in addition to provide many million times the amount of energy that oil would for volume.

A shovel full of dirt in your backyard can produce enough energy to run your home for a decade.

As for waste or operation, you're way off base. France and Sweden run almost purely nuclear and geothermal. If no one shows up for work they don't explode, they simply stop producing energy.

You need to read up on nuclear as it is now, not 40 years ago.
ricarguy
3 / 5 (4) Oct 20, 2009
This article, like so many, lacks specifics. One would have to analyze the findings, not this or even the Sci-Am article. No doubt a lot of critical assumptions are made.

What makes one skeptical is three things:
1) Storage and recovery when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow in the optimal manner that manufactures use to write their output specs.

2) Getting the energy from many locations where various, constantly shifting portions are being generated to where it is stored and where needed. Today the grid is largely static, with heavily utilized wires strung from a few "constant" producers and distributing out to users. In this new vision, chasing the energy will be more like a shell game with wires strung around to cover many scenarios.

3) At least large scale wind power has some prolonged return on investment. Including what it takes to make decent cells, solar has farther to go to be economically competitive at generating large amounts of power.
DozerIAm
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 21, 2009
Just picture the cost of man-made global warming. That will be in so high (if it doesn't kill us all) that we could switch over to other energy schemes for a tiny fraction of it.


Oh I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were a GW true believer. What are you doing here on a science forum?
Adam
5 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2009
Caliban,
it takes more energy to make a polysilicon cell than it puts out in its 20 year lifetime.

there isnt enough energy in light, thats why plants dont run.


That was so in the early 1970s. Modern solar systems recoup the energy input many times over. Stop propagating old "factoids".

But it's just idiotic to ignore the potential for advanced fourth generation nuclear power in such scenarios - some fraction of the power supply needs to be independent of bad weather.
fixer
1.3 / 5 (3) Oct 25, 2009
Point is, it's a news article, not a scientific paper.
It is a good idea though, but then any idea that reduces the need for fossil fuel is good.
It would probably be implemented right away but for the tardiness and greed of humanity.
I wonder, if electricity was free, would it really change your life?
Adam
5 / 5 (2) Oct 25, 2009
It's a defined output so there's no need for colocation. Why wouldn't you just use nuclear?

Because it's a finite energy source and you'd be back to square one.


Once through fuel cycles use a 'finite' resource - though the total is a lot bigger than using the figures for current reserves based on currently extractable ores might lead you to believe.

However any environmentally sensible nuclear advocate can tell you that integral fast reactors and thorium reactors can extract 30 - 100 times more energy out of the same amount of ore. In the case of uranium, burning U238 makes extracting uranium from seawater viable. The Japanese have been researching that particular concept for the last +25 years or so because there's billions of tons of uranium in the oceans. And it's continually washed into the oceans, thus it's ultimately a renewable resource that will last as long as the oceans and the processes of geology. About a billion years.
jerryd
1 / 5 (3) Oct 25, 2009
While I agree with most of the article, several points are wrong. ICE's get only 7% of the fuel's energy to the road. EV's get 20-70% depending on the source.

Combustion can be far more eff than said with up to 70% eff through triple cogen.

95% of biomass will become GHG's whether burned or not so it makes no sense not to use it for the peak power needed. This makes far more sense than the massive grid needed to replace which itself will make more GHG.

H2 is not a fuel but an ineff energy carrier. It's rarely more than 25% eff if the total energy cycle is taken into account. Thus fuelcells are not eff.

For those who think this will be expensive, it will be fossil fuels that will cost far more. For instance a wind generator can be done for under $2k/kw, a solar CSP can be done for $3k/kw and 3kw of heat. A river/tidal kinetic generator is $2k/kw and enough baseline resource to replace all coal, nuke in the US.

Biomass is under $3k/kw and can be used for chemical feedstock.

jerryd
1 / 5 (3) Oct 25, 2009
Continuing, Coal is $4k/kw, nuke $8.5k/kw plus fuel for both.

Solar can be used to split CO2 and water reformed into HC's with no GHG additions.

Once these simple RE machines are in mass production a family of 4 for under $10k can have a home and cars energy for 50 yrs with minor maintaining. That is far lower than fossil fuels ever could.

There is no shortage of energy, just a shortage of the equipment to catch, make and use it.

And it's not just GHG's why we need to do this but our national and economic security that demands it or we'll be broke and in constant wars. By having stable energy sources like RE that can't be used up or embargoed or forced up in price will go a long weay to balance the budget, make jobs and keep us out of oil, energy wars.
Nartoon
1 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2009
If Oil & Gas have peaked, and will certainly be used up quickly once the Chinese and Indians start using cars more the Oil & Gas will be gone withing 20 years. In the meantime with Oil & Gas truly being reduced and prices rising the market for alternatives will heat up significantly providing alternates to Oil & Gas by the time they run out. Voila, no need for CO2 laws. Only need to replace coal with Nuclear. Simple!