The climate movement and “100% renewables” recently sent around a strategic planning survey to people on their email lists. It sought to inform their planning on which campaigns to prioritize. The questions, however, took for granted that the only plausible or desirable way to prevent catastrophic climate change is to commit to an immediate transition from our mass dependence on fossil fuels to a global economy 100% based on renewables like hydro, wind, and solar.

I’ve written before about how climate change policy planning requires the consideration of multiple dimensions of uncertainty simultaneously. We shouldn’t choose strategies where we only succeed if other unknowns work out favourably for us (reducing the cost of renewables, dealing with the intermittancy problem, rebuilding energy grids). Even in terms of researching geoengineering, I can see the sense of evaluating whether it could be a backup plan if mitigation proves too hard, or if powerful positive feedbacks kick in. (That said, Gwynne Dyer paints a frightening picture where disputes over how quickly and energetically to begin geoengineering could be the spark for global conflict.)

I can see why pledging 100% renewables makes life politically simple for environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs) and activist groups. Most of their supporters and allied organizations are deeply opposed to nuclear energy, though the threat of climate change has brought some around. Likewise, they tend to oppose big dams and (arguably) most large industrial projects. Too often, they assume that massive reductions in energy demand will be achieved through improved efficiency, though considerable evidence suggests that as people around the world get richer, their demand for energy rises substantially as they choose air conditioning, high-energy forms of transport, and other lifestyle benefits long taken for granted in rich socities. (Though activists sometimes do support large solar farms, wind farms, run-of-river hydro projects, electrified transport, and other large-scale climate-friendly infrastructure.)

Rejecting low-carbon energy options like nuclear power stations and large dams (both of which are very expensive and carry with them a variety of forms of damage and risk, from methane release from hydroelectric reservoirs to the risk of nuclear weapon proliferation) makes for a more harmonious coalition among groups demanding aggressive action on climate change, but it introduces new risks into our long-term planning. In his excellent Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, David MacKay convincingly argues that a future where energy use levels are adequate and more equitably shared around the world requires us to “say yes” to big electricity sources that do little or no damage to the climate:

Because Britain currently gets 90% of its energy from fossil fuels, it’s no
surprise that getting off fossil fuels requires big, big changes… Given the general tendency of the public to say “no” to wind farms, “no” to nuclear power, “no” to tidal barrages – “no” to anything other than fossil fuel power systems – I am worried that we won’t actually get off fossil fuels when we need to. Instead, we’ll settle for half-measures: slightly-more-efficient fossil-fuel power stations, cars, and home heating systems; a fig-leaf of a carbon trading system; a sprinkling of wind turbines; an inadequate number of nuclear power stations.

Solving climate change quickly enough to avoid intolerable damage requires the rapid deployment of all low-carbon energy generation options. It’s better to spend the money and accept the other costs and impacts of multiple pathways to a sustainable future than it is to bet everything on one possibility and hope to our good luck.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

37 thoughts on “The climate movement and “100% renewables””

  1. Hundreds of new dams could mean trouble for our climate

    Using rivers and dams to make electricity is often touted as a win for the climate, a renewable source of electricity without the greenhouse gases that come from burning fossil fuels. But it turns out hydropower isn’t quite so squeaky clean—and with countries around the world poised to erect hundreds of new dams, that could have big implications for future emissions.

    Reservoirs already contribute roughly 1.3% of the world’s annual human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the study finds—about as much as the entire nation of Canada. It also suggests future reservoirs will have a bigger impact than expected, largely because they emit much more methane, a potent warming gas, than once believed. The methane is produced by underwater microbes that feast on the organic matter that piles up in the lake sediments trapped by dams.

    For existing reservoirs, the new study found a slightly lower total amount of greenhouse gases—770 megatons per year—than previous studies. That’s because the researchers used a new, lower estimate for the total size of the world’s reservoirs, Harrison says. But the higher methane emissions per unit area mean that the impact of future dams could be larger than expected.

  2. Although hydroelectricity is often promoted as ‘clean energy’ with respect to its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, an emerging field of research is discovering that the reservoirs associated with hydroelectricity often have substantial GHG impacts. Reservoirs directly emit GHGs to the atmosphere as organic matter decomposes in their waters. In addition, reservoirs often replace landscapes which are GHG sinks.

    BC Hydro has estimated that Site C’s reservoir could result in a net GHG impact which is equivalent to approximately 147,000 tonnes of CO2/year. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately 36,000 vehicles in the Lower Mainland. BC Hydro has claimed that this is an upper bounds estimation which is only valid for the first 10 years
    after the reservoir is filled, and that emissions would be negligible after this time period. However, BC Hydro has provided little justification for this 10 year limit. A close examination of the methods used in obtaining BC Hydro’s estimate suggests that, until a more comprehensive estimation is produced, it should be assumed that Site C’s reservoir would have a net GHG impact which is equivalent to approximately 147,000 tonnes of CO2/year over the entire life of the reservoir. Although the electricity produced by Site C would produce
    relatively less GHG emissions than electricity produced through certain other means (e.g. coal), this does not change the simple fact that Site C would have a significant GHG impact which is deserving of attention. This is especially true given that the BC Energy Plan requires “all new electricity generation projects *to+ have zero net greenhouse gas emissions.”

  3. For context, “In 2015, the most recent annual dataset in this report, Canada’s GHG emissions were 722 megatonnes [millions of tonnes] of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq)”.

    “Electricity production in Quebec and British Columbia relies on abundant hydroelectric resources, resulting in more stable emission patterns across the time series.”

    B.C.’s 2015 emissions were about 61 million tonnes. If the estimate for Site C above is correct, the dam would represent less than 1/400th of B.C. emissions.

    Canada’s 2030 climate target is to cut national emissions by 199 megatonnes, to 523 MT. Nobody yet claims that Canada has a plan in place to meet that target, and that target isn’t sufficiently ambitious to represent a fair Canadian contribution in a global mitigation effort which will cap warming below 2 ˚C or 1.5 ˚C.

  4. A green red herring
    Better to target zero emissions than 100% renewable energy

    The goal, after all, is to curb global warming, not favour particular technologies

    In June the Chinese province of Qinghai ran for seven consecutive days on renewable energy alone; in the first half of this year wind, solar and hydro generated a record 35% of Germany’s power.

    But not every target is helpful. To see why, consider that goal of 100% renewable energy. It makes solving climate change seem deceptively easy. In fact, though wind and solar can generate all a country’s electricity on some days, renewables still account for less than 8% of the world’s total power output. Moreover, cleaning up electricity is only part of the battle. Even though gas-fired heating and cooking can be at least as big a source of greenhouse-gas emissions, renewable heating gets minuscule attention. Transport policy is erratic, too. Carmakers may hit their goal of annual sales of 10m electric vehicles in a decade, but battery-powered road haulage, shipping and aviation are dreams. A much-quoted claim that America could rely on wind, solar and hydro alone for its electricity has recently been witheringly criticised by a group of respected academics (see article).

    Most important, a 100% renewables target confuses means with ends. The priority for the planet is to stop net emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. Putting too much emphasis on wind, solar and other renewables may block off better carbon-reduction paths. After decades of investment, it is wrong to leave nuclear power off the table. Carbon emissions in Germany actually rose because it chose to phase out nuclear power and so burned more coal. New technologies, such as “direct air capture” systems designed to separate carbon dioxide from the air, may in time prove vital.

    Likewise, greater energy efficiency could reduce emissions by even more than deploying renewables would. Indians last year consumed twice as much energy from newly installed air conditioners as they produced from new solar farms. More accurate metering of energy consumption could encourage companies and households to rein in power demand.

    At what cost?
    Can the world thrive on 100% renewable energy?

    A transition away from fossil fuels is necessary, but it will not be painless

    But all energy transitions, such as that from coal to hydrocarbons in the 20th century, take many decades. It is the rate of change that guides where investments flow. That makes greens more optimistic. During the past decade, solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind energy have been on a roll as sources of electricity. Although investment dipped slightly last year, the International Energy Agency, a global forecaster, said on July 11th that for the first time the amount of renewable capacity commissioned in 2016 almost matched that for other sources of power generation, such as coal and natural gas. In some countries the two technologies—particularly solar PV in sunny places—are now cheaper than coal and gas. It is no longer uncommon for countries like Denmark and Scotland to have periods when the equivalent of all their power comes from wind.

    In 2015 Mark Jacobson of Stanford University and others argued that electricity, transport, heating/cooling, and industry in America could be fully powered in 2050-55 by wind, water and solar, without the variability of the weather affecting users. Forswearing the use of natural gas, biofuels, nuclear power and stationary batteries, they said weather modelling, hydrogen storage and flexible demand could ensure stable supply at relatively low cost.

    But in June this year Christopher Clack, founder of Vibrant Clean Energy, a firm, issued a stinging critique with fellow researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the journal in which Mr Jacobson et al had published their findings. They argued that a narrow focus on wind, water and solar would make tackling climate change more difficult and expensive than it needed to be, not least because it ignored existing zero-carbon technologies such as nuclear power and bioenergy. They claimed the models wrongly assumed that hydroelectricity output could continue for hours on end at many times the capacity available today, and pointed to the implausibility of replacing the current aviation system with yet-to-be-developed hydrogen-powered planes. In their view, decarbonising 80% of the electricity grid is possible at reasonable cost, provided America improves its high-voltage transmission grid. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.

  5. The dubious environmental justice of 100% renewable energy

    The manifesto calls for Canada to initiate a shift to 100% renewable energy based on so-called research that holds such a shift is possible within two decades. The research is by a cult academic at Stanford University named Mark Jacobson who comes up with utterly impractical plans to power regions with renewable energy. His plan to power the New York state includes unproven, overrated, and inappropriate technologies such as offshore wind a mile deep along the entire coast of Long Island, and concentrated solar power, which needs tremendous levels of insolation to work and as such has ever only been built in deserts.

    In most of the real world, the attempt to shift to high concentrations of renewable energies is failing. Germany has been going all out on a renewable energy system for 15 years, and they have only managed to reduce the amount of coal they burn by about a fifth, primarily by burning garbage and trees, which they are importing in vast quantities from around the world. Globally, the only regions successfully approaching high percentages of renewable energy are those that were there all along because they happen to be blessed with access to lots of hydro power, which not all of Canada is.

    By contrast, a better balanced energy system that moved beyond fossil fuels by combining renewable sources with nuclear power would be easier and cheaper to develop and would require a far smaller materials and land footprint. As is well known, nuclear, like renewable energy, produces electricity without greenhouse gases. Most experts, including the IPCC, know that combining nuclear into low-carbon energy system is essential for making those systems cost-effective and adequate for expanding economies and populations.

  6. Environmentalists are experts at saying no and resisting projects – useful for blocking dirty energy, but a hinderence to the emergence of clean kinds. Like everyone, they want a high energy lifestyle with no drawbacks or consequences.

  7. “Murray refuses to say whether he agrees with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that pipelines can be built and expanded while meeting Canada’s international commitments on climate change.

    “Pipelines and energy infrastructure in Canada, there is an architecture in there that has to be transformed,” he said Monday in an interview. “To pull out pipelines as a separate discussion from nuclear plants or from other types of infrastructure that are carbon intensive gets you into a conversation that I think is often a no-win conversation.””

  8. Aren’t the endless woes associated with all attempted nuclear construction in democratic countries cause enough to write it off as a politically- and economically-plausible climate solution?

  9. I agree that there are lots of problems with nuclear power, though the ones environmentalists often worry most about aren’t necessarily the most serious.

    I think the two biggest problems are cost and the slow pace of construction (which are related – for plants where capital costs are a huge part of the total, long construction times add a lot to cost).

    Recently: The History Behind South Carolina’s Nuclear Debacle

    For countries which are potential nuclear weapon powers or which have growing nuclear arsenals, I also see proliferation as a major reason to question nuclear deployment.

    By contrast, I think routine radioactivity, waste, and accidents are all comparatively tractable problems and the kind of risks and burdens we should accept to constrain climate change.

  10. I live in British Columbia where there there is widespread opposition to the large Site C hydro project because of the impact on local environment. The prevalent view among environmentalists is to shut it down because of local impact and the assumption of uncecessqry demand in British Columbia. However I do not hear much about how that low carbon emitting energy could then be sued to replace fossil fuel use in the US.

    Is it not the case that the electricity can then be sold to the US to replace electricity created by fossil fuels?

    Would that Revenue not help pay for British Columbia schools and health care?

    Climate change is an issue that rosses all borders. We should also think beyond our narrow borders when thinking of solutions.

  11. OTTAWA — Government officials and energy industry representatives are eyeing key changes that could deepen ties between the three countries’ oil, gas and electricity industries as the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation kicks off next week.

    Energy ministers in Canada, Mexico and the United States have so far struck a conciliatory tone ahead of the August 16 talks, a stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric in which he threatened to dismantle the deal in favour of more U.S.-friendly policies.

    Energy trade and investment ties between the three markets have been highly integrated since the NAFTA came into effect in 1994, but all three see several opportunities for further integration, nudging the continent closer to forging a North American energy bloc — a grandiose plan that has been tried, and repeatedly failed, for decades.

    The premise: in an increasingly uncertain energy market, harmonized economic and environmental ties between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico could position North America as the dominant energy superpower.

  12. Because neither government is serious about dealing with climate change – and both are deeply influenced by the fossil fuel industry – Canada-U.S. energy cooperation is likely to make the problem worse.

    The article above talks about using a revised NAFTA agreement to force through the Keystone XL pipeline.

    Generally speaking, multilateral trade and investment agreements seek to protect giant potential fossil fuel projects from the risk that governments will tighten environmental and climate regulations. One of the many things we need to do is change the global trade regime to favour controlling rather than worsening climate change. That means respecting the right of states to enact new climate legislation, allowing states with domestic carbon taxes to charge them on imports, supporting low-carbon technology transfer, discouraging international air travel and shipping (or at least subjecting them to the same carbon taxes as domestic activities), and much more.

    See: Carbon tariffs, WTO rules allow carbon tariffs

    All that said, if governments were serious about dealing with climate change, more integrated energy grids would be valuable in many ways. See: HVDC transmission for renewable energy (especially the comments below)

    In part, the state of the nuclear industry in North America is demonstrative of how our governments lack seriousness about climate change. In the U.S. a growing set of nuclear plants are being shut down because they cannot compete with cheap gas – permanently removing major sources of low-carbon power from the grid. At the same time, new nuclear construction has become virtually impossible in democratic countries. See: Olkiluoto, Flamanville, and Hinkley

    China is building a lot of new reactors, though I am concerned about what will happen when they eventually inevitably have a major accident that the public finds out about. The panicked nuclear shutdowns in Germany and Japan after Fukushima Daiichi set a worrisome precedent.

  13. A second area ripe for improvement is energy. When NAFTA was signed, in 1992, America was in secular decline as a big energy producer. The fracking revolution changed that. America produced an average of 9.4m barrels of oil a day in 2015, up by 80% compared with a decade earlier. Mexico has changed, too. Reforms now allow greater foreign investment in its oil and gas industry. NAFTA opened up trade between America and Canada but exempted Mexico from some of its obligations. America now does ten times as much trade in electricity with Canada as with Mexico. An upgraded NAFTA could bring about an integrated North American energy market. That will require a streamlining of the process by which America grants permits for cross-border grids and pipelines.

  14. The problem is, our current business-as-usual trajectory takes us to a world that’s about 3.5C warmer. That is to say, even if we kept the promises we made at Paris (which Trump has already, of course, repudiated) we’re going to build a planet so hot that we can’t have civilisations. We have to seize the moment we’re in right now – the moment when we’re scared and vulnerable – and use it to dramatically reorient ourselves. The last three years have each broken the record for the hottest year ever measured – they’re a red flashing sign that says: “Snap out of it.” Not bend the trajectory somewhat, as the Paris accords envisioned, but simultaneously jam on the fossil fuel brakes and stand on the solar accelerator (and also find some metaphors that don’t rely on internal combustion).

    This is a race against time. Global warming is a crisis that comes with a limit – solve it soon or don’t solve it

    We could do it. It’s not technologically impossible – study after study has shown we can get to 100% renewables at a manageable cost, more manageable all the time, since the price of solar panels and windmills keeps plummeting. Elon Musk is showing you can churn out electric cars with ever-lower sticker shock. In remote corners of Africa and Asia, peasants have begun leapfrogging past fossil fuel and going straight to the sun. The Danes just sold their last oil company and used the cash to build more windmills. There are just enough examples to make despair seem like the cowardly dodge it is. But everyone everywhere would have to move with similar speed, because this is in fact a race against time. Global warming is the first crisis that comes with a limit – solve it soon or don’t solve it. Winning slowly is just a different way of losing.

  15. And yet as climate diplomats gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd Conference of the Parties under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I would like to point their attention to a different, perhaps gloomier statistic: the world’s carbon intensity of energy.

    The term refers to a measure of the amount of CO2 spewed into the air for each unit of energy consumed. It offers some bad news: It has not budged since that chilly autumn day in Kyoto 20 years ago. Even among the highly industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the carbon intensity of energy has declined by a paltry 4 percent since then, according to the International Energy Agency.

    This statistic, alone, puts a big question mark over the strategies deployed around the world to replace fossil energy. In a nutshell: Perhaps renewables are not the answer.

    Capacity from renewable sources has grown by leaps and bounds, outpacing growth from all other sources — including coal, natural gas and nuclear power — in recent years. Solar and wind capacity installed in 2015 was more than 10 times what the International Energy Agency had forecast a decade before.

    Still, except for very limited exceptions, all this wind and sun has not brought about much decarbonization. Indeed, it has not added much clean power to the grid.

    Some countries have bucked the trend. Denmark has sharply cut its carbon intensity with vast installations of wind turbines. And yet Germany’s experience seems to be more typical. The country went all out in deploying wind and solar energy over the past 10 years, but the decline in carbon intensity was minuscule, from 212 to 203 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

  16. The BCUC panel had indicated those requirements weren’t nearly as great as BC Hydro, the Crown utility in charge of the project, have indicated they would be. But in the past week, the BCUC’s own forecasts were challenged, with experts saying the commission panel completely underestimated the energy needs created by the growing electrification of the economy. It was also pointed out that the cost of cancelling the project at this point will be in the neighbourhood of $4-billion. Tack on to that, too, the need to raise consumer electricity rates to pay for the decision. Also, Hydro would then have to start from scratch to find alternative, cheaper energy sources.

    In other words, it’s too late to turn back.

    Whatever Premier John Horgan and his cabinet decides, it will be incredibly divisive, not just in the province but inside his own party. If the result is to go ahead, it will anger the NDP’s vocal and activist environmental wing, which exists in the party more broadly, but also inside the government caucus. A green light could also jeopardize what so far has been a fairly contented working relationship with the Greens.

  17. SOME call it a zero-carbon schism, others a heresy. The researchers, policymakers and environmentalists united over the need to stop global warming are divided on how to go about it. Many believe that renewable energy, especially wind and solar, has by far the biggest role to play. A dogged few, however, cling to nuclear energy, which is also carbon-free but has an image problem. The two camps barely speak to each other.

    In 2017 almost 30% of the state’s electricity came from renewable sources, with solar and wind accounting for about 10% each. Nuclear was about 9%. A decade ago, solar was just 0.22%, and wind 2.25%, with nuclear at 15%. Nuclear’s relative decline reflects, in part, a global trend highlighted in the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), issued on September 4th. During the past decade investment in renewables has surged, whereas in nuclear it has stagnated (see chart, top panel). Falling prices of solar panels and wind turbines, the ever-growing expense and difficulty of building nuclear facilities, and cheap natural gas all play a part.

    The more solar capacity is installed, the authors find, the worse for baseload generators—that is, those that produce electricity around the clock. The new energy mix rewards gas turbines that can be turned on for a few hours to satisfy peak demand in the evening.

    About 150 gigawatts of wind and solar were installed globally in 2017 versus 3GW of nuclear. Yet even though so much favours renewables, atomic energy is not dead. Nuclear power still provides more than twice as much electricity globally as wind, and 5.5 times as much as solar, partly because it runs all the time rather than intermittently. In June President Donald Trump instructed his energy secretary, Rick Perry, to take emergency steps to keep nuclear and coal plants running, citing national-security considerations. In April New Jersey launched a scheme to reward nuclear-power plants for producing emissions-free power, as part of the state’s goal for 100% clean energy by 2050.

  18. Moorside’s atomic dream was an illusion. Renewables are the future

    The collapse of Toshiba’s project underlines the fact that new nuclear is a more unreliable proposition than wind and solar

    Toshiba’s decision to pull out of building a nuclear power station in Cumbria last week will cause shockwaves far beyond the north-west of England.

    The outcome is a disaster for the surrounding area, which is heavily reliant on the nuclear industry for jobs and prosperity. Local politicians admit it is a blow and a disappointment for Cumbrians hoping for roles at the proposed Moorside plant. They say they genuinely believe a new buyer for the site will come forward. But that looks like wishful thinking.

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    To an extent, the demise of Moorside can be attributed to problems with it as a specific project. It has looked doomed since Toshiba’s US nuclear unit, Westinghouse, declared bankruptcy in 2017 and the company ruled out new nuclear investments outside of Japan. Efforts to woo the South Korean energy company Kepco as a buyer then floundered. The executive leading the sale for Toshiba blamed the failure to find a buyer on being “caught between a series of unplanned and uncontrollable events”.

    But the end of Moorside is also emblematic of the wider challenges that new nuclear faces. It took a decade from Tony Blair signalling the UK’s renewed interest in nuclear power in 2006 for France’s EDF Energy and the British government to sign a generous subsidy deal and green-light Hinkley Point C, the UK’s first new nuclear plant in a generation. In all likelihood, it will not be generating electricity until 2027.

    Ministers insist new nuclear power stations are still an essential way of hitting the country’s greenhouse gas emission targets and providing energy security as old plants are switched off in the 2020s.

    Losing Moorside means there are just five other new nuclear projects planned, including Hinkley Point C. Eyes will now turn to Hitachi’s proposed Wylfa Newydd plant on Anglesey. The project is the furthest along the line after Hinkley, but it’s far from a done deal.

  19. From a climate pollution perspective nuclear is as good as wind or solar:

    “In this project, NREL reviewed and harmonized life cycle assessments (LCAs) of electricity generation technologies to reduce uncertainty around estimates for environmental impacts and increase the value of these assessments to the policymaking and research communities.”

  20. Analysing the feasibility of powering the Americas with renewable energy and inter-regional grid interconnections by 2030

    The Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, as the two biggest climate action initiatives, address the need to shift towards a fully sustainable energy system. The deployment of renewable energy, especially solar and wind power, decreases carbon dioxide emissions, but presents issues of resource intermittency. In this study, a cost-optimised 100% renewable energy based system is analysed and quantified for the Americas for the reference year 2030 using high spatially and temporally resolved weather data. Several scenarios have been applied, from a decentralised power system towards a fully centralised and interconnected system, taking into account a mix of renewable energy, energy storage and transmission networks. This research aims to evaluate the benefits of an interconnected energy system for the Americas. The levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) is between 48.8 and 59.0 €/MWh depending on the chosen scenario. The results show that the LCOE and total annualised cost drop by 14% and 15%, respectively, in a centralised power system. The optimised utilisation of transmission grids leads to less energy storage requirement. Sector coupling brings further benefits by reducing additional 4% of LCOE, where electricity demand for power, seawater desalination and non-energetic industrial gas sectors have been supplied. A comparison between the interconnected Americas and North and South America individually shows a reduction of 1.6% and 4.0% for the total annual system cost and LCOE. Although the cost of the energy system decreased due to wide grid interconnection, substantial benefits have not been achieved as reported earlier for a Pan-American energy system. A scenario with synthetic natural gas (SNG) trading through a liquefied natural gas value chain has also been presented. The results suggest that local SNG production cost in the assumed consumption centre is almost the same as the cost of imported SNG.

  21. More renewable energy will help the environment. Just three countries in the world get a higher share of their electricity from coal. Yet there is also a financial case for them. Wind and solar stations can go up quickly without straining Eskom’s balance-sheet. They also generate power more cheaply than that humming down the line from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations. Recent international auctions have priced renewable power at about 30 South African cents per kwh, versus more than 50 cents for Eskom’s existing coal plants. “South Africa should never build another coal station ever again, purely on the basis of economics,” argues Tobias Bischof-Niemz, a former Eskom engineer who is now a director at ENERTRAG-SA, a renewables firm.

  22. Trade-Offs between Geographic Scale, Cost, and Infrastructure Requirements for Fully Renewable Electricity in Europe

    The European potential for renewable electricity is sufficient to enable fully renewable supply on different scales, from self-sufficient, subnational regions to an interconnected continent. We not only show that a continental-scale system is the cheapest, but also that systems on the national scale and below are possible at cost penalties of 20% or less. Transmission is key to low cost, but it is not necessary to vastly expand the transmission system. When electricity is transmitted only to balance fluctuations, the transmission grid size is comparable to today’s, albeit with expanded cross-border capacities. The largest differences across scales concern land use and thus social acceptance: in the continental system, generation capacity is concentrated on the European periphery, where the best resources are. Regional systems, in contrast, have more dispersed generation. The key trade-off is therefore not between geographic scale and cost, but between scale and the spatial distribution of required generation and transmission infrastructure.

  23. If you want to go 100% renewables, two things to bear in mind:

    1) Enough capacity to provide European-level energy use to everyone occupies a large amount of land:

    2) To get a fair comparison with fossil fuel and nuclear costs, you need to consider the storage requirements for the renewables you favour. Long-term storage could be pumped water or compressed air; short-term, batteries and fuel cells. Either way, you need to add the costs of those systems to compare solar PV or wind to gas.

  24. Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar

    Previous analyses have found that the most feasible route to a low-carbon energy future is one that adopts a diverse portfolio of technologies. In contrast, Jacobson et al. (2015) consider whether the future primary energy sources for the United States could be narrowed to almost exclusively wind, solar, and hydroelectric power and suggest that this can be done at “low-cost” in a way that supplies all power with a probability of loss of load “that exceeds electric-utility-industry standards for reliability”. We find that their analysis involves errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions. Their study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses that point to the benefits of considering a broad portfolio of energy system options. A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system.

  25. Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems

    An effective response to climate change demands rapid replacement of fossil carbon energy sources. This must occur concurrently with an ongoing rise in total global energy consumption. While many modelled scenarios have been published claiming to show that a 100% renewable electricity system is achievable, there is no empirical or historical evidence that demonstrates that such systems are in fact feasible. Of the studies published to date, 24 have forecast regional, national or global energy requirements at sufficient detail to be considered potentially credible. We critically review these studies using four novel feasibility criteria for reliable electricity systems needed to meet electricity demand this century. These criteria are: (1) consistency with mainstream energy-demand forecasts; (2) simulating supply to meet demand reliably at hourly, half-hourly, and five-minute timescales, with resilience to extreme climate events; (3) identifying necessary transmission and distribution requirements; and (4) maintaining the provision of essential ancillary services. Evaluated against these objective criteria, none of the 24 studies provides convincing evidence that these basic feasibility criteria can be met. Of a maximum possible unweighted feasibility score of seven, the highest score for any one study was four. Eight of 24 scenarios (33%) provided no form of system simulation. Twelve (50%) relied on unrealistic forecasts of energy demand. While four studies (17%; all regional) articulated transmission requirements, only two scenarios—drawn from the same study—addressed ancillary-service requirements. In addition to feasibility issues, the heavy reliance on exploitation of hydroelectricity and biomass raises concerns regarding environmental sustainability and social justice. Strong empirical evidence of feasibility must be demonstrated for any study that attempts to construct or model a low-carbon energy future based on any combination of low-carbon technology. On the basis of this review, efforts to date seem to have substantially underestimated the challenge and delayed the identification and implementation of effective and comprehensive decarbonization pathways.

  26. The challenges of achieving a 100% renewable electricity system in the United States

    Understanding the technical and economic challenges of achieving 100% renewable energy (RE) electric power systems is critical, given the increasing number of United States regional and state commitments toward this goal. Although no detailed study of a major utility of large interconnection under 100% RE system has been published, considerable literature explores the potential to greatly increase RE penetration. This literature, combined with real-world experience with increased RE deployment, points to two main challenges associated with achieving 100% RE across all timescales: (1) economically maintaining a balance of supply and demand and (2) designing technically reliable grids using largely inverter-based resources. The first challenge results in a highly nonlinear increase in costs as the system approaches 100% RE, in large part because of seasonal mismatches. The second challenge might require new inverter designs, depending on the mix of RE technologies. Analysis and experience to date point to no fundamental technical reasons why a 100% RE electric power system cannot be achieved, but the economic challenges indicate the need for advancements in several technologies and careful consideration of the suite of options that could be used to achieve equivalent carbon-reduction goals. Previous work also points to the need for analytic tool development, and techno-economic feasibility analysis must also consider the host of regulatory, market, and policy issues that might limit the ability to deploy mixes of resources that are suggested by least-cost modeling exercises.

  27. The shift away from combustion is large and novel enough that it bumps up against everyone’s prior assumptions—environmentalists’, too. The fight against nuclear power, for example, was an early mainstay of the green movement, because it was easy to see that if something went wrong it could go badly wrong. I applauded, more than a decade ago, when the Vermont legislature voted to close the state’s old nuclear plant at the end of its working life, but I wouldn’t today. Indeed, for some years I’ve argued that existing nuclear reactors that can still be run with any margin of safety probably should be, as we’re making the transition—the spent fuel they produce is an evil inheritance for our descendants, but it’s not as dangerous as an overheated Earth, even if the scenes of Russian troops shelling nuclear plants added to the sense of horror enveloping the planet these past weeks. Yet the rapidly falling cost of renewables also indicates why new nuclear plants will have a hard time finding backers; it’s evaporating nuclear power’s one big advantage—that it’s always on. Farmer’s Oxford team ran the numbers. “If the cost of coal is flat, and the cost of solar is plummeting, nuclear is the rare technology whose cost is going up,” he said. Advocates will argue that this is because safety fears have driven up the cost of construction. “But the only place on Earth where you can find the cost of nuclear coming down is Korea,” Farmer said. “Even there, the rate of decline is one per cent a year. Compared to ten per cent for renewables, that’s not enough to matter.”

  28. Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different


    Environmentalists learned they needed to make some compromises, and so most of America’s aging nuclear reactors were left online past their decommissioning dates: that lower-carbon power supplemented the surging renewable industry in the early years, even as researchers continued work to see if fusion power, thorium reactors or some other advanced design could work.

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