We Can Have (Just About) Everything We Want For Energy & The Climate

The only things we have to give up are killing people and wrecking the environment.

Okay, let’s start with a list of the things we would really like to have for energy and the climate in the year 2050. For many CleanTechnica readers, the list of things we want to replace the business-as-usual (BAU) approach might look a bit like this:

  • A grid that is stable 100% of the time

  • Saving all of the 5.3 million lives that would be lost globally, every year, if we fail to stop air pollution

  • Eliminating the 57 billion tons of CO₂e that would be emitted each year under BAU

  • Reducing all-purpose end-use energy requirements by over 50%

  • Reducing annual worldwide energy costs by over 60%

  • Reducing annual energy, health, and climate costs by over 90%

  • Using less than 0.6% of our land to provide for energy (a lot less than under BAU)

  • Creating 28 million more long-term, full-time jobs than are lost in the transition

  • Eliminating energy sources that are too costly, lead to insecurity, or are possibly dangerous

  • Covering all of the cost of accomplishing these things from energy sales (which, remember, are lower than with BAU)

There are a couple of things we would have to give up to get to that future. They are:

This list was not made up on a whim. Slightly modified for brevity, it is from a study that was released in June, “Low-cost solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy insecurity for 145 countries,” (LCS) by Mark Z. Jacobson, et al. The study says the list is realistically achievable. We just have to do it.

One possible timeline for change. Note that lighter areas on top represent energy use being eliminated from the BAU approach, and the colored areas represent wind, water, and solar energy. The image is from the LCS study.

Though we understand that a lot of damage has already been done by the use of fossil fuels, the study tells us that we may actually be able to move into a period of relative prosperity with better living conditions both for us humans and for all other creatures .

It is true that fossil fuel jobs will be lost as we transition to 100% renewable energy. And it is true that there will be stranded assets. The same is true of nuclear power. But these industries have never made any claim to be sustainable. And it is simply a fact (or more accurately, a tautology) that if something is not sustainable, its condition is terminal. One way or the other, people invested in these areas might be better off if they get ready to move on to something else soon.

Also, we should recognize that the BAU scenario would very possibly leave us with inescapable destruction for much of the planet, with millions of people dying every year.

So, the choice is (1) good air, good health, lots of new jobs paying good money, great energy savings leading to lower costs overall, eliminating polluting emissions so we can save the environment and our grandchildren can enjoy life in a lovely world , or (2) doom, despair, and death. We can take our pick.

Mark Z. Jacobson is well known to many CleanTechnica regulars. This site was where I first learned about him, over ten years ago. Since that time, a large number of articles have appeared here about things he has done or said.

Jacobson seems to have been working on reexamining one particular thesis for all those years, as times change. The message is that we will really gain in nearly all possible ways, if we just quit using dangerous, destructive, and over-costly power sources. But as the times change, Jacobson’s message must be updated to stay accurate. It looks like an unending job.

Climate change has turned into the climate crisis, making everything more urgent. We have increased risks to human health. There is the increasing specter of wars leading to energy insecurity, with the one in Ukraine possibly intentionally causing insecurity to take advantage of it. Our food supplies are threatened. Droughts and floods … I could go on and on, but I have to stop somewhere, or this article will never get done.

last february CleanTechnica’s Steve Hanley wrote an article I suggest reading, “Renewable Energy: Zero Blackouts, Millions Of New Jobs Mark Z. Jacobson.” It goes over details of what Jacobson is doing. The present article really just expands on that one.

I will reiterate from Steve Hanley’s article a point that Jacobson stresses: We can get all the energy we need, very inexpensively and very reliably, if we concentrate on wind, water, and solar (WWS) as the sources. Please note, hydrogen and geothermal energy are included in the WWS sources, but bio-fuels and nuclear energy are not.

The reason for the new article in June is that things are constantly changing, and this means that the statement has to be revisited once more. It is an ongoing job for Jacobson and his staff, as conditions change and new technology is general adopted. So the latest study addresses several new things.

The first new material appears because the area under study is changing. There are 145 countries in the LCS study, an increase of two from the earlier studies. That might not seem like much difference, but there are other new approaches relating to the areas under study.

The countries are grouped for grid stability analysis into 24 regions. One observation about these regions is the way they are chosen. Dividing the world into regions sounds like a simple matter of cutting up a map into big pieces, and there are some big areas. China, Hong Kong, Mongolia, and North Korea are all in the same region. But some areas are carefully made separate from everything else. Each of the countries Cuba, Iceland, Israel, Jamaica, Mauritius, and Taiwan constitutes a region by itself.

Another update has to do with raw end-use energy consumption. Data for each sector in each area has been updated to 2018, where earlier studies were based on data from 2016 or 2012. This is true for electricity generation, storage, and installed capacities. This is particularly important because the costs for the WWS technologies have been going down, even as costs for other sources of energy have been either increasing or unreliably volatile.

The methods of modeling have been changing. One significant feature of the LCS study is that calculations of building heating and cooling loads worldwide are based on 30-second intervals over a period of three full years, 2050–2052. The loads are calculated consistently with wind and solar generation in each country using a model for weather prediction and climate model. For the earlier studies such loads were estimated from daily heating and cooling degree-day data over a period of one year. Clearly, the LCS study makes use of much more powerful computers, because this represents a huge increase in the number of calculations.

Because the costs of batteries have been declining so rapidly, the study makes new assumptions about storage. Specifically, it expects common use of large 4-hour batteries and anticipates their being “concatenated” to supply longer duration storage. We should note that 4-hour storage times are often sufficient for utility purposes in most places.

There is a series of new sensitivity tests included in Jacobson’s latest study, and some of them are quite interesting. One examines details of district heating scenarios, especially for small countries. Another looks at the unknowns of how battery storage costs will change. Reductions in the numbers of hours needed for load shifting are examined. But also, the latest study looks into the possible effects of increasing the numbers of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the mix of electric vehicles. And it even questions what time of day is best to charge vehicles, leading to understanding that there are cost advantages in daytime charging.

According to the newest study, 95% of the technology needed to achieve the results we hope for have already become widely available. There is very little new technology that is necessary to address climate change. But we must decide to tackle the political work of supporting the transition.

The bottom line is that we really can get pretty close to what we want. And the things we must give up to get what we want are probably things we are better off without.

By the way, for those who find scientific studies difficult to read, Mark Z. Jacobson has written a new book, No Miracles Needed. It was written “for everyone” about energy and climate change. The book is scheduled to be released at the end of January, 2023.


 


 

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