Totally Renewable – and Renewed – by 2030?
February 10, 2011
In our recent post on the World Future Energy Summit, we discussed the need for policy change in order to achieve current climate change targets. Two scientists in the United States have taken that one step further. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi, research scientist, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis; believe that all that is needed to achieve a totally carbon free, totally renewable, wind, water and solar (WWS) based energy system by 2030 is political will.
Well, maybe a bit more than that. We’ll also need:
- 490,000 tidal turbines, each with an installed capacity of one megawatt
- 5,350 geothermal plants, each with an installed capacity of 100 megawatts
- 270 additional hydroelectric plants, each with an installed capacity of 1,300 megawatts
- 3.8 million wind turbines, each with an installed capacity of five megawatts
- 720,000 wave powered turbines, each with an installed capacity of 0.75 megawatts
- 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, each with an installed capacity of three kilowatts
- 49,000 solar focusing steam power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
- 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
Basically, to achieve a totally renewable WWS energy system, we’ll have to totally renew the existing system. And that includes building a new, super-interconnected electricity transmission grid. It also involves scrapping all internal combustion engine vehicles and replacing them with electric or fuel cell vehicles.
And the cost estimate is only about $100 trillion.
The most fascinating aspect of this theory is that it might just be doable.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2030, world energy demand will be 16.9 terawatts (TW), or enough to power 47 60-watt light bulbs for every person on earth. But Jacobson and Delucchi point out that in a carbon-free world there would be no internal combustion engines, and internal combustion engines are far less efficient than electricity, so the actual requirement drops to 11.5 TW.
And if you think 3.8 million wind turbines is a lot, consider that auto manufacturers make 73 million cars per year. Also consider that much of the world’s electricity generation and transmission infrastructure is aging and will have to be replaced in the not too distant future anyway. And without all the transportation-induced air pollution, medical and environmental costs would decrease significantly.
As far as reliability of the system is concerned, a thoroughly interconnected grid will be able to re-route surplus electricity to wherever it is needed. Jacobson and Delucchi point out, perhaps a little simplistically, that if it’s raining in one place, it’s sunny someplace else, or if there’s no wind, it’s probably sunny. In other words, electricity will be generated somehow, somewhere.
The authors have determined that the only technical barrier might be the availability of rare-earth metals needed for batteries, solar films and fuel cells. But if we recycle old batteries and buildings, we should have ample supply of steel, concrete and things like neodymium and indium.
Which means the real barrier is political will, which ultimately means getting everyone onside. Most of us agree there’s a problem, but maybe it’s a little far fetched to try and achieve all this by 2030. Maybe it’s more realistic to try for 2050. Implement a more gradual shift, replacing old infrastructure as needed with new wind, water and solar generation. Maybe people will be a little more comfortable with that and a little more willing to put one of the 1.7 billion photovoltaic systems on their own roof.