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Climate Hustle

A Plan for 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

Posted on 25 March 2011 by dana1981

We recently examined how Australia can meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020.  Here we will examine how that goal can be scaled up for the rest of the world.

Energy consulting firm Ecofys produced a report detailing how we can meet nearly 100% of global energy needs with renewable sources by 2050.  Approximately half of the goal is met through increased energy efficiency to first reduce energy demands, and the other half is achieved by switching to renewable energy sources for electricity production (Figure 1).

ecofys fig 1

Figure 1: Ecofys projected global energy consumption between 2000 and 2050

To achieve the goal of 100% renewable energy production, Ecofys forsees that global energy demand in 2050 will be 15% lower than in 2005, despite a growing population and continued economic development in countries like India and China.  In their scenario:

"Industry uses more recycled and energy-efficient materials, buildings are constructed or upgraded to need minimal energy for heating and cooling, and there is a shift to more efficient forms of transport.

As far as possible, we use electrical energy rather than solid and liquid fuels. Wind, solar, biomass and hydropower are the main sources of electricity, with solar and geothermal sources, as well as heat pumps providing a large share of heat for buildings and industry. Because supplies of wind and solar power vary, “smart” electricity grids have been developed to store and deliver energy more efficiently.  Bioenergy (liquid biofuels and solid biomass) is used as a last resort where other renewable energy sources are not viable."

To achieve the necessary renewable energy production, Ecofys envisions that solar energy supplies about half of our electricity, half of our building heating, and 15% of our industrial heat and fuel by 2050.  This requires an average annual solar energy growth rate much lower than we're currently achieving – an encouraging finding.

The report notes that wind could meet one-quarter of the world’s electricity needs by 2050 if current growth rates continue, and sets that as its goal.  Ecofys also envisions more than one-third of building heat coming from geothermal sources by 2050.  If we double current geothermal electricity production growth rates, it can provide 4% of our total electricity needs by that date.  Ocean power, through both waves and tides, accounts for about 1% of global electricity needs in 2050.  Hydropower, which currently supplies 15% of global electricity, ultimately supplies 12% in the Ecofys scenario.  As you can see in Figure 2, global renewable energy use ramps up gradually between now and 2050.

ecofys fig 4

Figure 2: Energy use by source between 2000 and 2050

Burning biomass (such as plant and animal waste) will supply 60% of industrial fuels and heat, 13% of building heat, and 13% of electricity needs.  Much of the proposed biomass use comes from plant residues from agriculture and food processing, sawdust and residues from forestry and wood processing, manure, and municipal waste.  All of these renewable energy technologies currently exist, and it's just a matter of implementing them on a sufficiently large scale.

Ecofys also envisions using currently existing technology and expertise to "create buildings that require almost no conventional energy for heating or cooling, through airtight construction, heat pumps and sunlight.  The Ecofys scenario foresees all new buildings achieving these standards by 2030."  2–3% of existing buildings will also need to be retrofitted per year to improve energy efficiency.  Ecofys notes that Germany is already retrofitting buildings at this rate.  Transportation must become more efficient, using more fuel efficient vehicles like electric cars, and increasing use of mass public transportation.

Accomplishing all of this will require a major effort, but Ecofys has a number of suggestions how we can start:

  • Introduce minimum efficiency standards worldwide for all products that consume energy, including buildings
  • Build energy conservation into every stage of product design
  • Introduce strict energy efficiency criteria for all new buildings
  • Introduce an energy tax, or perhaps a carbon emissions price
  • Help developing countries pursue alternatives to inefficient biomass burning, such as such as improved biomass cooking stoves, solar cookers and small-scale biogas digesters
  • Substantial investment in public transportation
  • Make individuals, businesses, and communities more aware of their energy consumption, and encourage increased efficiency

Undoubtedly you're wondering how much this will all cost.  Ecofys finds that we will need to divert up to 3% of global gross domestic product (GDP) to investments in materials and energy efficiency, renewable energy, and necessary infrastructure.  However, we also save money in terms of reduced fossil fuel use.

The report finds that we can save nearly 4 trillion Euros ($5.7 trillion) per year by 2050 based on energy efficiency savings and reduced fuel costs, as compared to business-as-usual.  The up-front investments are expensive, but savings will begin to exceed those costs by 2040, and even sooner if oil prices rise faster than expected, or if we factor in the costs of climate change and the impact of burning fossil fuels on public health.  The plan will reduce energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, which will give us a fighting chance to avoid the 2°C global warming "danger limit".

There's a saying, "where there's a will, there's a way".  In this case we have a way to fully transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050.  The question is, do we have the will?

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 174:

  1. As I said before, a country like Iceland has already much more renewable electricity than what is needed for its population (most of it being used in big aluminium and other plants). It is totally deprived of any fossil fuels (for the very good reason that the whole country is not more than 30 millions years old). So in some sense it has already achieved most of this program and has absolutely no interest in importing FF that will become more and more expensive. Yet they're producing around 9 tCO2/cap/yr, much like Germany or other countries. I don't understand very well why they don't have already applied this beautiful program - they don't even have to care about smart grids, geothermal and hydroelectricity doesn't suffer from intermittency. So before believing it's applicable to the whole world, I will wait first to see if it's applicable to the easiest cases - such as Iceland.
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  2. Gilles... Snoozers are losers. That's like waiting to see how fast someone else can run the first lap before you get into the race. You put yourself at a distinct disadvantage.
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  3. Gilles - Iceland has the highest per capita energy consumption of any country, yet it's among the lowest in per capita CO2 emissions. The only reason their emissions are still significant is that they need so much energy (because the country is so cold). If Iceland had a more average energy consumption, their emissions would be extremely low.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Hot-linked URL. Note: It is considered good form to include some accompanying text with links to help provide context. Thanks!

  5. For many countries I believe it is practically feasible to cut carbon emissions by 70-80% by replacing coal with a combination of natural gas, nuclear and renewables, without to much pain. However to attempt 100% reduction through renewables alone, especially without nuclear, carbon capture, or a large reserve of hydro is vastly more expensive and technically very challenging.

    If a 100% reduction has to be made, I wonder if alternative scenarios such an 80% reduction in carbon emissions combined with say a 10% biomass offsetting and 10% geoengineering might be more practical?

    I can't help but think that more practical approaches are being marginalised through extreme ideologies. On the one hand: we have our present course of 'business as usual' and striving for exponential growth, and on the other a 100% carbon reduction through renewable sources alone.
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  6. Gilles - Iceland has the highest per capita energy consumption of any country, yet it's among the lowest in per capita CO2 emissions.

    almost twice as much as the world average can hardly be called "the lowest in per capita CO2 emissions" ! it's surprising that they still need so much FF with so much electricity !

    The only reason their emissions are still significant is that they need so much energy (because the country is so cold). If Iceland had a more average energy consumption, their emissions would be extremely low."
    actually not : the main reason is the presence of huge aluminium and ferrosilicon factories that require a lot of electricity.
    Curiously it's not so cold - it's bathed by the Gulf Stream and polar ice pack doesn't reach it even in winter - which are much milder than in Siberia for instance.

    But they still need oil for cars, ships and planes - hydrogen is still a dream. And of course they must also import a lot of goods and don't include the corresponding CO2 in their budget.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Please do not copy others' comments in their entirety when quoting them. Either a short 1-sentence quote of the pertinent verse you wish to respond to is sufficient or (better yet) simply link to the comment (right-click on the time stamp & select Copy Link Location). Hotlinked URLs. Thanks!

  7. [1and0nly] #4 - I'm going to discuss Jacobson and Delucchi's work in my next article, as it so happens.
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  8. perseus #5 - I disagree. Nuclear and carbon capture and storage technologies are as or more expensive than most of the technologies in the Ecofys report. There are other reasons to exclude nuclear as well, as I'll discuss in my post on Jacobson and Delucchi, who find that we can meet all energy needs with just wind, water, and solar power.
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  9. Gilles #6 - we've talked about this. Just because presently we rely on fossil fuels for transportation doesn't mean we will indefinitely. This issue is addressed in the Ecofys report (and again, I will address it when I discuss Jacobson and Delucchi). We're talking about the future, you're talking about the past and present. Please, stay focused on the topic at hand.

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  10. A potential problem with this analysis is that it puts so much emphasis (50%) on energy efficiency... while Jevons paradox has repeatedly shown that increasing energy efficiency actually results in greater energy use.

    How this works is basically that as something gets more efficient the cost to power it per unit time goes down and it gets more usage. The original example was how making coal powered trains more efficient led to much more extensive railroads and greater total coal consumption. However, the same thing has been observed many times since. The most recent example I can think of would be energy efficient light bulbs... since the cost of powering the lights has dropped more locations now are less concerned about energy prices and leave the lights on all the time. A similar effect can be seen with gasoline prices... when the cost goes down people drive more.

    This effect can be avoided by offsetting the efficiency improvements with artificially inflated prices... if you are paying as much to run the appliances in your house as you did before then your behavior doesn't change even if you are using half as much energy as before.

    However, the plan above calls for cost savings from energy efficiency... which means that they don't intend to keep costs artificially level and Jevons paradox could come into play and trash the whole plan. Think about it... energy efficiency sufficient to reduce usage (and thus cost) by 50%. Why not get air conditioners for every room and run them full time in the Summer? It won't cost any more than having one or two to keep a couple of rooms bearable did in the past. Ditto on burning more heating fuel in the Winter. Car gets twice as much gas mileage? Road trip!

    Improving energy efficiency does not (by itself) reduce energy consumption, and any plan which assumes it will is bound to fail.
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  11. CBD #10 - I think that's a valid criticism. I think the projections of decreased energy consumption are probably the most unrealistic part of the report. Bear in mind to achieve them, we need to upgrade the efficiency 2-3% of buildings every year. I don't think that's realistic either.

    Part of that can be solved by assuming higher energy use, and meeting it by accelerating wind and/or solar power generation, for example. Currently the report has wind and solar growth rates flat and decelerating by 2050, respectively.

    I suspect Jacobson and Delucchi are more realistic about energy demands in their study.
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  12. dana#9 : I'm right on topics, that's precisely what I'm saying ; if it is possible, it should be achieved first in countries where the situation is most favorable - that is those producing already 100 % renewable electricity, since they "only" have to switch the other uses (the other have to do both !). So I will first wait to see if these countries achieve that, before believing that the whole world can do it. Personally, I live in France where electricity is mainly nuclear and I'm heated by a combination of heat pump+ wood - I think I'm rather fine in this respect.
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  13. Re my comment #11 - indeed, Jacobson and Delucchi use the EIA estimates that global energy consumption will increase 36% between now and 2030, whereas Ecofys has them roughly equal. I prefer their plan to Ecofys, so I'm looking forward to writing a post about it.
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  14. CBDunkerson,

    Leaving aside that you are asserting as fact that Jevons paradox has real world effects much greater than are accepted by people who actually study such things - see, for instance, - you seem very confused about the effects that would be expected if energy prices were "artificially inflated", i.e. if energy taxes were imposed to prevent energy consumers from increasing their consumption in response to efficiency improvements. The energy tax revenues wouldn't go into a black hole - they would presumably either get spent on some new public good or taxes on something other than energy would be decreased. Or maybe we could even use the revenue to pay down the public debts that so many people profess to be so worried about.
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  15. Gilles - your point was not that it should be done first in most favorable countries, your point was that it has not yet been achieved. Since this report is about future actions, that point is irrelevant.

    And arguing that most countries should not implement renewable energy and energy efficient technologies until Iceland has reduced its emissions to zero makes no sense whatsoever. I refer you to Rob's comment #2.
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  16. Djon, no actually I don't think energy tax values would 'go into a black hole'. You'll notice I didn't say anything of the kind?

    Rather the logical thing to do with them is to try to keep the overall cost of energy use level by taking 'savings' from efficiency improvements and funneling that money into the start up costs inherent in converting over to other methods of energy generation, offsetting higher costs for some forms of energy, et cetera.

    As to Jevons paradox not being a sure thing... I'll read the article you link to, but I've never seen a case cited where it didn't come into play unless regulations/price controls were deliberately implemented to prevent it.
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  17. Djon #14 - good point about Jevons paradox. I still think Ecofys is too optimistic about energy efficiency gains though.
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  18. CBDunkerson,

    No one, that I know of, denies that Jevons paradox exists and has some effect. What's at issue is whether it completely wipes out the effects of gains in efficiency.

    As to the black hole which you say you don't believe energy taxes go into, your belief in it seemed to be implied when you said "the plan above calls for cost savings from energy efficiency... which means that they don't intend to keep costs artificially level". That conclusion ignored the fact that society as a whole could realise cost savings from energy efficiency despite the monetary cost of, for instance, controlling the temperature of a particular house staying the same due to energy taxes.
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  19. I should add, I suppose the conclusion "the plan above calls for cost savings from energy efficiency... which means that they don't intend to keep costs artificially level" would make sense if Jevons paradox actually effects in the real world as strong as CBDunkerson originally asserted.
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  20. As if on cue, Energy Secretary Steven Chu states that, "Before maybe the end of this decade, I see wind and solar being cost-competitive without subsidy with new fossil fuel."
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  21. Yes, boys and girls, that is the critical point, the point where the falling cost of renewables crosses the rising cost of fossil fuels (coal really). That is the inflection point where we have a whole new ballgame.

    Get your chips on the table. Where you gonna place your bets? FF or renewable? (Remember, the market rewards those who bet early and often if they turn out to be right.)
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  22. Re Jevons etc.

    This article, and it's predecessor - linked there in - is a good read.
    Rebounds and Jevons: Nobody Goes There Anymore. It’s Too Crowded

    Even more amusing to note that Jevons him self, 1865, went into a wiled tizzy at the though of peak-coal ...
    ... turns out we're pretty inventive species. I don't see why we can't substitute to avoid the bad affects of oil, as we did to avoid the limitations of coal and, before that horse power.
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  23. Rob #20 - thanks, I'm using that Chu reference in my next post.
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  24. I posted an hour before, and my post disappeared; OK it was in French, but I hope this was not the reason to delete it; so what was the reason?
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Pretty much. You may try the French version of this site linked at top. Or, seeing as your English is pretty good, repost it in English here.
  25. Djon, you (like the articles you and les have cited) are making unwarranted assumptions about 'motives' behind citing Jevons paradox.

    I'm all for energy efficiency improvements. My position is just that they should be tied to price controls such that the efficiency improvement leads to a matching decrease in fuel usage rather than the efficiency change essentially being 'wasted' as people react to the decreased price with increased usage.

    The plan above proposes that we will be able to reduce all fossil fuel usage by 50% while realizing dramatic reductions in costs. Does that seem realistic to you? If costs go down that significantly why wouldn't people use more energy?

    We shouldn't go into a massive redesign of the underlying foundation of modern society looking to get the job done on the cheap. Keep prices level (or raise them if you need to) until the conversion is nearly complete and then if you find that costs are lower than is being charged for you can start decreasing costs... provided you are ready to ramp up generation if needed.
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  26. dana#15 I never stated that no country should go to zero FF before Iceland, if some of them succeed in doing that, that's fine for me! I'm just expecting that countries with zero FF and a lot of renewable electricity would be in a much better condition and should be the first ones to achieve that - so i'm eager to look at the speed at which they'll do the transition.
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  27. Gilles, it isn't a country, but I expect that Hawaii will be one of the first places in the world to fully convert. Currently they get most of their energy by shipping in oil and burning it... which is just insane given their abundance of solar, wind, tide, and geothermal energy sources. Electric cars are also much more viable when you live on an island, which inherently limits how far you will ever need to drive.
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  28. concerning the Jevons paradox, the problem can be best viewed as a marginal cost/benefit problem (Nash equilibrium). Starting for the situation given here, with a overall integral consumption of 500 Gt of C , say (I didn't check the figures), what would be the marginal cost 'including all externalities you want and the marginal benefit to burn juste one more t of C ?

    if you can't demonstrate that cost > benefit everywhere in the world, then nobody can insure that just this t of C won't be burnt. And so on for the next t ...
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  29. 27 : CB : the great advantage of Iceland is that they have already much more renewable electricity produced than they need - Electricity is already there !!! which is not the case of Hawaii I think.
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  30. The only way the reports key assumption of 15% lower demand in 2050 could happen is if there is a severe, worldwide recession, making our current recession look like small potatoes.
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  31. If the world took on Ecofys approach and all things went renewable what is the COe2ppm in 2050?

    Calculating that would mean accumulative adding all the CO2e cost of creating and maintaining the renewables (e.g. trinitrofloride for some PV's, off shore wind maintainence) and the infra structure to support them, plus re-building the entire car fleet and new infra structure necessary for electric cars, plus getting all those batteries and replacing them regularly (what is the environmental costs of all those proposed batteries and their replacements?), plus replacing all white goods with efficient ones, plus all embodeid energy for the materials to renovate homes and build new ones, plus adaptation infra-structure embodied energy, plus replacing extreme weather damage to homes and goods (flood damage), plus any grown biofuels CO2e debt, plus all the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels until 2050 when they are fully replaced and so on.

    Then consider all the eco-system changes from producing things like tyres, heavy metals, plastics, bricks, rockwool like insulations, copper, water (for cooling smelting processes, embodied water in things due to production (Aral Sea)), waste creation and the associated CO2e disturbances due to those eco-system disturbances and things maybe start to add up and that isn't even starting to address communications (an iphone has a large environmental legacy), increasing population demands, farming, international trading and fishing!

    Is it possible to get to a safe CO2 concentration (i.e. 350ppm) in the atmosphere by 2050 and still use all that power necessary to maintain the high octane westernised lifestyle?
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  32. ranyl #31 - they're talking about limiting the warming to 2°C, which is around 450 ppm CO2. Realistically even 450 ppm is an extremely ambitious goal at this point.
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  33. Re Jevon's paradox: From my experience, the increase in energy use after substantial efficiency improvements is usually some fraction of the saving. As a typical example, people increase indoor temperature after installing heat pumps, resulting in an actual halving of energy consumption rather than the potential (and maybe projected) reduction to a third. In the few cases where total energy use actually increases, there is usually an underlying latent need that now can be met. Generally, it may be a good idea, as CBDunkerson suggests, to introduce policy measures to support the intended changes, but it is not always strictly necessary.

    What is, generally, necessary, is high enough energy prices to encourage efficient use and avoid too much wasteful use. For instance, what the billionaires of the world spend for personal use, won't make much of a difference. But what the millionaires do, will make a difference. So for a policy to be efficient, it must target them (too).

    So far, energy use has been way too cheap in most of the world to sufficiently encourage savings and efficiency, but things are changing now.
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  34. If the Jevons paradox claims that improving energy efficiency results in higher overall energy use, it's wrong on very basic economic levels. Let's say average fuel efficiency of automobiles rose from 25 mpg to 250 mpg, and average miles driven per person per year was 10,000 just prior. For Jevons paradox to be correct, the average miles driven would have to increase to beyond 100,000 miles. This is somewhat of a simplistic example, as it doesn't take into account the extra energy use required to manufacture the vehicle and dispose of it, or extra road maintenance for any increased miles driven, so the actual number would be somewhat less than 100,000, but one would be hard-pressed to make the numbers work for Jevons paradox.

    So if auto fuel efficiency did increase tenfold, there would be more miles driven, but nowhere near enough to offset the energy savings. There isn't enough spare time in the day to drive that much. Another reason is the price elasticity of demand, which is fairly inelastic for current gas prices. Just as doubling fuel costs has small effect on reduction in consumption, so would halving fuel costs (even less effect). One can see this in U.S. petroleum consumption from 2005 to 2008. There were huge price increases but only modest reductions in consumption, much of which could be attributed to the declining economy in 2008-2009. There are also fuel efficiency standards that are beginning to take effect. These various factors, however, can't be disentangled easily by eyeballing some numbers.

    U.S. Primary energy consumption by source
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  35. Making a country carbon-neutral has very much to do with available technology. Iceland, for example, with about 300 000 inhabitants, has no chance of making electric vehicles for transportation themselves - probably not even biofuels for their fisheries. Not even a big economy like Germany's can develop/produce everything needed itself. But whether opportunities are used, depends much on national (or, in Europe, the EU) policies. For instance, Germany already in 2009 had a 7% biofuel use in transportation, while some other EU countries had virtually zero.
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  36. 32 Dana,

    Yet the Pliocene had a CO2 350ppm and was 3-5C hotter, taking into account that i slong equilibrium and only 60% is realised in 100years that leaves 1.8-2.4C for 350ppm.

    So 450ppm seems a best risky considering what we talking about and seeing the changes already happening would prefer to be far below 2C as well, 1.5C is double what we've had already and that is becoming sobbering.
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  37. If you ask me, Jevons Paradox sounds over-simplistic. Case in point-I switched all the lights in my house from incandescent to globes to CFL's about 10 years ago. Now aside from the immediate energy savings (I now use about 1/5th of the electricity for my lighting needs than I needed back in the 1990's) there is also the simple fact that I've bought far fewer globes in the past decade than I did in the decade prior because-whereas my CFL's now last anywhere from 2-5 years, my old incandescents needed to be replaced every 2-6 months. So there is an energy saving there too, IMHO.
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  38. #29, Gilles: "Iceland ... Electricity is already there !!! which is not the case of Hawaii I think."

    Another bit of fact-free dialog from the world according to Gilles. To burst the bubble with a fact or two:

    The 2009 Hawaii State Legislature enacted this goal into law by establishing a renewable portfolio standard of 40 percent and an energy efficiency standard of 30 percent by 2030 ...
    Hawaii ranks third in the nation ... in use of renewable energy relative to the state's total electricity production. In 2009, ... 19 percent of Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light companies’ sales came from renewable energy (including solar water heating) and quantifiable energy efficiency efforts.

    By 'electricity already there' in Iceland, I presume you mean hydro and geothermal resources? Some of that Icelandic electricity might one day be on its way to a European nation near you.
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  39. To add to the WWF study [sorry if it's excessive!]:

    * Zero Carbon Britain 2030: "A sustainable, secure, efficient Britain can be powered without relying on fossil fuels or nuclear power."

    * Europe could be 100% renewable by 2050. A "super-smart" grid powered by solar farms in North Africa, wind farms in northern Europe, hydro-electric from Scandinavia and the Alps and a complement of biomass and marine energy could render carbon fuels obsolete by 2050. Nuclear energy not needed. +

    * Providing all Global Energy with Wind, Water, and Solar Power. "We suggest producing all new energy with [Wind, Water and Solar] by 2030 and replacing pre-existing energy by 2050." + +

    * Zero Carbon Australia Energy Plan. A ten year roadmap for 100% renewable energy. Baseload energy supplied by renewable sources. Affordable at $8 per household per week.

    * Total Surface Area Required to Fuel the World With 100% Solar + Wind: + responses to the usual nit-picking: +

    * Climate 2030: A National Blueprint for a Clean Energy Economy.

    * Germany to become 100% renewable by 2050.

    * The Combined Power Plant. How Germany will provide 100% renewable electricity by 2050.

    * How Germany will achieve 100% clean, safe, renewable energy by 2050 - regardless of what the weather does.

    * Clean Energy 2030. Google's Proposal for reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

    * Decarbonizing Civilization: Powering the Globe Entirely with Wind Energy by 2050.

    * Battle of the grids: how to deliver 68% renewable energy by 2030 and nearly 100% by 2050.

    * Road map to zero carbon, renewable energy in Europe by 2050. "Nuclear and / or coal-with-CCS plants are not essential to decarbonize power while safeguarding system reliability."

    * UN Report: How Two Per Cent of Global GDP can Trigger Greener, Smarter Growth While Fighting Poverty.

    * EU Roadmap for moving to a low-carbon economy in 2050. "The share of low carbon technologies in the electricity mix is estimated to increase from around 45% today to around 60% in 2020, including through meeting the renewable energy target, to 75 to 80% in 2030, and nearly 100% in 2050."


    Curiously, I've never seen any plan from any independent source that recommends nuclear....
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  40. Well David MacKay's "Sustainable Energy without the hot air" most certainly considers it. Powering Europe from renewables has some pretty major hurdles, technological, environmental, and economic, which tend to be glossed over. I personally suspect nuclear is a better option.
    Its not clear whether some of these plans are talking about just electricity generation or considering transport fuels as well.
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  41. An important point to remember when considering the costs of any new renewable and high efficiency plant and equipment. Some opinions make it sound like the cost of all these things will be an additional cost compared to zero cost with BAU. But this overlooks the fact that much of this equipment - Coal power plants, refrigerators, cars - will reach the end of their working life and need to be replaced anyway. So what the cost is really depends on the rate of the change. If it proceeds at the 'mortality' rate of existing plant it is simply the difference in the capital cost of the old vs new technolgy. If we want to make a transition faster, then we have to include the capital losses from equipment being written off early.

    To this end, one of the key areas to focus on is not building new equipment that isn't renewable & efficient. Each one of these built today is a possible capital loss several decades from now.

    Their is an important issue wrt to a transition to renewables that is often put forward in the skeptic argument Renewables can't do baseload
    As various studies have shown, a fully fledged renewable power system, with geographically and climatically dispersed generation and a smart distribution network can meet all power needs. But during the transition when renewables are only a small part of the mix then they do need FF backup. Its a classic Chicken & Egg problem. Existing FF generation will be needed during this transition period to provide the buffering until the new grid is large enough to be self-buffering. So arguments about the limits of renewables at their current scale aren't relevent to the viability of the completed grid.

    So in order to manage the transition well with minimal economic pain, we need to ramp up deployment of renewables and efficiency improvements as fast as possible preferably much faster than currently, without targeting the shutdown of FF plants initially (except for the really bad ones perhaps). We need them for the transition period.

    Its building the new equipment that matters. So sights like protesters picketting coal power stations is perhaps misguided. Perhaps picket government and business demanding more and more investment in/deployment of renewables instead
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  42. For the record, this article has been re-posted on TreeHugger.
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  43. Glenn, I agree. Dont build another coal power station is a good way to focus industry on the problem.
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  44. I'd also like to add my agreement to Glenn's post at #41. One of the most effective policy actions that could be taken would be for a government to legislate that, for example, no new fossil-fuel power stations will be permitted to be built after, say, 2015.
    Add restrictions on upgrades / enhancements to existing ones too (perhaps only allowing them if it can be demonstrated that renewable options can't do the job), along with a concrete timeframe for phasing out fossil power.

    If the Australian Government, for example, said that all coal-fired power stations *must* be shut down by 2030, you can bet there'd be a lot of investment in alternative energy sources...

    Although I'm certain that we'd also hear plenty of howls of protest that all it will do is ensure that Australia goes "back to the stone age" in 2030 when the power gets turned off.
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  45. 34#NYJ : "For Jevons paradox to be correct, the average miles driven would have to increase to beyond 100,000 miles."
    You're wrong : it says just that then nobody can prevent 10 times more people to have a car (or any combination of this : 3 times more people driving 3 times the distance, for instance). And yes : there are enough people without cars in the world to multiply by 3 the number of cars. May be you should realize that the whole world is much poorer and live very differently from NewYorkers ?

    Mucounters : I said that Iceland produced already much more renewable energy than their current total personal needs , including FF (it's enough to close their aluminium factories, but there is still enough places to build dams and geothermal plants to keep them). I don't see with your figures that Hawaii produce much more renewable energy than their total needs.

    Now a question concerning a 100 % renewable energy world : with these hypothesis, which fraction of people could leave on vacation overseas , for instance in Maldives islands, following you ?
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  46. Another remark, illustrating the "Nash equilibrium" (the fact that things tend to stabilize when the marginal costs equilibrate the benefits). Start from the graphics displayed Fig 1, and assume that we add to Fig 2 just the amount of FF you need to reach the "baseline" of 520 EJ. Obviously things would be much easier. We wouldn't have to make so many efforts, we could keep more cars (I know that some people dislike cars and are fond of public transportation, but you would agree that they're enough people who think just the opposite ?) , so I don't think we would lack of potential consumers.
    Now what would be the effect of these extra 260 EJ ? well by eyes it's approximately the current consumption (which produce an extra +2 ppm/yr) multiplied by half of the triangle height, say 25 years, so +50 ppm. Well + 50 ppm , it's not negligible, but it is not that terrific . If we assume a 3°C per doubling , it makes 3*ln(500/450) /ln(2) = 0.5 °C , that is the same increase that from 1970 to now. Now you have to convince people that a 0.5 °C has more drawbacks that doubling the energy consumption of the planet - that is that these extra 260 EJ - with the same efficiency, without spoiling energy wouldn't bring anything valuable compared to the drawbacks of increasing the temperature by 0.5 °C.

    Good luck !
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  47. good grief. Gilles is now doing to the dismal science what damorbel did to thermodynamics.

    Nash Equilibrium is nothing, directly, to do with marginal costs nor, indeed cost/benefit curves. It's an equilibrium point in game theory.
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  48. les : and you think there is no relationship between economy and game theory ?
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  49. I 48 Gilles - I absolutely think there's relationship between economy and game theory*!

    Read what I wrote.

    Nash equilibrium is part of game theory, not cost-benefit curves - although individual agents may choose to use those. It certainly is not used in calculating marginal cost curves

    * Well, to be more precise, game theory is a useful model to calculate some aspects of economic relationships. It is very often used in computer simulation of economic models to look at the range of outcomes and, there by, the probability of future situations.
    This is, believe it or not, much the same procedure people use with climate models where they have to vary a range of parameters to look the the likelihood distribution of projectsion and model parameter fits and stuff like that...
    ... stuff you have objected to very strongly.

    Soooo... I guess you could not possibly think that game theory has any possible relationship to the economy - any more than you think that climate models have a relationship to the climate.
    And further, as the economy is also a non-linear / chaotic system... a whole pile of other 'skeptical' arguments which apply to the climate apply to economic modeling.

    I do hope we're not cherry picking here!
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  50. Re dana1981 at 05:30 AM on 25 March, 2011 - Carbon capture more expensive than alternatives

    Dana - I have no doubt that renewables are the most cost effective power generation mitigation methods for low to medium penetration scenerios. My scepticism tends to be greatest for high penetration levels of renewables since the cost of storage techniques have to be included for 100% renewable strategy.

    The problem tends to be most acute when weather conditions require much longer storage timescales of several weeks or even months. Winter anticyclonic conditions over Europe come to mind. I think most cost calculations assume storage periods of days at most. Of course we could just go without power during these rare periods, but this seems to be politically unacceptable. The problem is we need to build a lot of storage to cover that period which is very expensive indeed.

    Many prominent environmentalists such as George Monboit and Mark Lynas have realised this, and eventually come round to accepting the need for solid baseload generation, nuclear in their case.

    In my wind article you can see how I attempted to partly solve that problem by integrating space heating via CHP and heat pumps into the electric generation mix, which requires using some natural gas but allows greater renewable penetration.
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