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Can renewables provide baseload power?

What the science says...

Select a level... Intermediate Advanced

Numerous case studies on both regional and global scales have determined that renewable energy, if properly implemented, can provide baseload power.

Climate Myth...

Renewables can't provide baseload power

The myth that renewable energy sources can't meet baseload (24-hour per day) demand has become quite widespread and widely-accepted.  After all, the wind doesn't blow all the time, and there's no sunlight at night.  However, detailed computer simulations, backed up by real-world experience with wind power, demonstrate that a transition to 100% energy production from renewable sources is possible within the next few decades.

Reducing Baseload Demand

Firstly, we currently do not use our energy very efficiently.  For example, nighttime energy demand is much lower than during the day, and yet we waste a great deal of energy from coal and nuclear power plants, which are difficult to power up quickly, and are thus left running at high capacity even when demand is low.  Baseload demand can be further reduced by increasing the energy efficiency of homes and other buildings.

Renewable Baseload Sources

Secondly, some renewable energy sources are just as reliable for baseload energy as fossil fuels.  For example, bio-electricity generated from burning the residues of crops and plantation forests, concentrated solar thermal power with low-cost thermal storage (such as in molten salt), and hot-rock geothermal power.  In fact, bio-electricity from residues already contributes to both baseload and peak-load power in parts of Europe and the USA, and is poised for rapid growth.  Concentrated solar thermal technology is advancing rapidly, and a 19.9-megawatt solar thermal plant opened in Spain in 2011 (Gemasolar), which stores energy in molten salt for up to 15 hours, and is thus able to provide energy 20 hours per day on average, and 24 hours per day during much of the summer.

Addressing Intermittency from Wind and Solar

Wind power is currently the cheapest source of renewable energy, but presents the challenge of dealing with the intermittency of windspeed.  Nevertheless, as of 2011, wind already supplies 24% of Denmark's electricity generation, and over 14% of Spain and Portugal's.

Although the output of a single wind farm will fluctuate greatly, the fluctuations in the total output from a number of wind farms geographically distributed in different wind regimes will be much smaller and partially predictable.  Modeling has also shown that it's relatively inexpensive to increase the reliability of the total wind output to a level equivalent to a coal-fired power station by adding a few low-cost peak-load gas turbines that are opearated infrequently, to fill in the gaps when the wind farm production is low (Diesendorf 2010).  Additionally, in many regions, peak wind (see Figure 4 below) and solar production match up well with peak electricity demand.

Current power grid systems are already built to handle fluctuations in supply and demand with peak-load plants such as hydroelectric and gas turbines which can be switched on and off quickly, and by reserve baseload plants that are kept hot.  Adding wind and solar photovoltaic capacity to the grid may require augmenting the amount of peak-load plants, which can be done relatively cheaply by adding gas turbines, which can be fueled by sustainably-produced biofuels or natural gas.  Recent studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that wind could supply 20-30% of electricity, given improved transmission links and a little low-cost flexible back-up.

As mentioned above, there have been numerous regional and global case studies demonstrating that renewable sources can meet all energy needs within a few decades.  Some of these case studies are summarized below.

Global Case Studies

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

Stanford's Mark Jacobson and UC Davis' Mark Delucchi (J&D) published a study in 2010 in the journal Energy Policy examining the possibility of meeting all global energy needs with wind, water, and solar (WWS) power.  They find that it would be plausible to produce all new energy from WWS in 2030, and replace all pre-existing energy with WWS by 2050

In Part I of their study, J&D examine the technologies, energy resources, infrastructure, and materials necessary to provide all energy from WWS sources.  In Part II of the study, J&D examine the variability of WWS energy, and the costs of their proposal.  J&D project that when accounting for the costs associated with air pollution and climate change, all the WWS technologies they consider will be cheaper than conventional energy sources (including coal) by 2020 or 2030, and in fact onshore wind is already cheaper. 

European Union Case Study

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) prepared a plan for the European Union (EU) to meet 100% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2050, entitled Re-Thinking 2050.  The EREC plan begins with an average annual growth rate of renewable electricity capacity of 14% between 2007 and 2020.  Total EU renewable power production increases from 185 GW in 2007 to 521.5 GW in 2020, 965.2 GW in 2030, and finally 1,956 GW in 2050.  In 2050, the proposed EU energy production breakdown is:  31% from wind, 27% from solar PV, 12% from geothermal, 10% from biomass, 9% from hydroelectric,   8% from solar thermal, and 3% from the ocean (Figure 2).

EU Renewables

Figure 2: EREC report breakdown of EU energy production in 2020, 2030, and 2050

Northern Europe Case Study

Sørensen (2008) developed a plan through which a group of northern European countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany) could meet its energy needs using primarily wind, hydropower, and biofuels.  Due to the high latitudes of these countries, solar is only a significant contributor to electricity and heat production in Germany.  In order to address the intermittency of wind power, Sørensen proposes either utilizing hydro reservoir or hydrogen for energy storage, or importing and exporting energy between the northern European nations to meet the varying demand.  However, Sørensen finds:

"The intermittency of wind energy turns out not to be so large, that any substantial trade of electric power between the Nordic countries is called for.  The reasons are first the difference in wind regimes...and second the establishment of a level of wind exploitation considerably greater that that required by dedicated electricity demands.  The latter choice implies that a part of the wind power generated does not have time-urgent uses but may be converted (e.g. to hydrogen) at variable rates, leaving a base-production of wind power sufficient to cover the time-urgent demands."

Britain Case Study

The Centre for Alternative Technology prepared a plan entitled Zero Carbon Britain 2030.  The report details a comprehensive plan through which Britain  could reduce its CO2-equivalent emissions 90% by the year 2030 (in comparison to 2007 levels).  The report proposes to achieve the final 10% emissions reduction through carbon sequestration.

In terms of energy production, the report proposes to provide nearly 100% of UK energy demands by 2030 from renewable sources.  In their plan, 82% of the British electricity demand is supplied through wind (73% from offshore turbines, 9% from onshore), 5% from wave and tidal stream, 4.5% from fixed tidal, 4% from biomass, 3% from biogas, 0.9% each from nuclear and hydroelectric, and 0.5% from solar photovoltaic (PV) (Figure 3).  In this plan, the UK also generates enough electricity to become a significant energy exporter (174 GW and 150 terawatt-hours exported, for approximately £6.37 billion income per year).

UK Renewables

Figure 3: British electricity generation breakdown in 2030

In order to address the intermittency associated with the heavy proposed use of wind power, the report proposes to deploy offshore turbines dispersed in locations all around the country (when there is little windspeed in one location, there is likely to be high windspeed in other locations), and implement backup generation consisting of biogas, biomass, hydro, and imports to manage the remaining variability.  Management of electricity demand must also become more efficient, for example through the implementation of smart grids

The heavy reliance on wind is also plausible because peak electricity demand matches up well with peak wind availability in the UK (Figure 4, UK Committee on Climate Change 2011).

UK wind seasonality

Figure 4: Monthly wind output vs. electricity demand in the UK

The plan was tested by the “Future Energy Scenario Assessment” (FESA) software. This combines weather and demand data, and tests whether there is enough dispatchable generation to manage the variable base supply of renewable electricity with the variable demand.  The Zero Carbon Britain proposal passed this test.

Other Individual Nation Case Studies

Plans to meet 100% of energy needs from renewable sources have also been proposed for various other individual countries such as Denmark (Lund and Mathiessen 2009), Germany (Klaus 2010), Portugal (Krajačić et al 2010), Ireland (Connolly et al 2010), Australia (Zero Carbon Australia 2020), and New Zealand (Mason et al. 2010).  In another study focusing on Denmark, Mathiesen et al 2010 found that not only could the country meet 85% of its electricity demands with renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2050 (63% from wind, 22% from biomass, 9% from solar PV), but the authors also concluded doing so may be economically beneficial:

"implementing energy savings, renewable energy and more efficient conversion technologies can have positive socio-economic effects, create employment and potentially lead to large earnings on exports. If externalities such as health effects are included, even more benefits can be expected. 100% Renewable energy systems will be technically possible in the future, and may even be economically beneficial compared to the business-as-usual energy system."



Summary

Arguments that renewable energy isn't up to the task because "the Sun doesn't shine at night and the wind doesn't blow all the time" are overly simplistic.

There are a number of renewable energy technologies which can supply baseload power.   The intermittency of other sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic can be addressed by interconnecting power plants which are widely geographically distributed, and by coupling them with peak-load plants such as gas turbines fueled by biofuels or natural gas which can quickly be switched on to fill in gaps of low wind or solar production.  Numerous regional and global case studies – some incorporating modeling to demonstrate their feasibility – have provided plausible plans to meet 100% of energy demand with renewable sources.

Last updated on 21 June 2011 by dana1981.

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Comments 1 to 25 out of 198:

  1. I believe the answer to utility scale electricity storage is at http://www.launchpnt.com/portfolio/grid-scale-electricity-storage.html Pumped Hydro Storage is generally accepted as the best way of storing electricity. The problem is you need a mountain and mountains are usually (and quite rightly) stoutly defended by the environmental lobby. Gravity Power ticks all the pumped storage boxes PLUS it can be sited almost anywhere with minimal environmental issues. It can store GW scale power over hours or even days if necessary and at a fraction of the cost of traditional PHS. It can be used as load follower or peaking plant and it can mitigate for the variability of wind and solar.
  2. What about nuclear?
    Response: Off topic for this thread
  3. One place where baseload power can be provided by wind, is a chain of wind turbines running along the Atlantic coast of the northern U.S. The Atlantic Wind Connection project will take advantage of wind patterns that blow sufficiently at least somewhere along that chain at all times.
  4. Is there a thread that discusses the potential for systems that are already well-established to be a part of a carbon-neutral power grid. Examples would be nuclear power fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Sequestration?
  5. This thread presents a false dichotomy. The problem with renewables - except for hydro - is that they cannot provide peak load either. Hydro, in the form of pumped storage, is used where possible right now, it is not likely to be expandable to meet the difficult volatility problems arising from wind, wave and solar renewables and the slightly more tractable tidal variability.
    Response: [muoncounter] Before we get going with multiple-hundreds of comments, please note that unsubstantiated claims have little or no value. Your statement about pumped storage not likely to be expandable falls into that category.

    Note the older version of this thread also addresses many of these points.

  6. damorbel, the only problem with renewables not being able to "provide peak load either" is grid construction and design. The issue is not variability, it's having enough of solar or wind and their associated storage in enough places with good enough connections to other places that might be running short at a particular time. With tidal, run of river and geothermal as a basis for predictable supply - once again depending on the grid - the variable elements may also have to come from outside a particular area. Seeing as centralised generation often serves long distances, that isn't the issue. It's only the grid being able to accept from as well as distribute to many distant places at a time. Remember also that sophisticated heating, cooling and refrigeration systems can be remotely adjusted, varying demand if needed. And in a decade or so, a good (and growing) proportion of electric cars will have a nice neat storage system always available. All we have to do is stop thinking that power (and storage) must always come from a central point.
  7. Re #6, adelady you wrote:- "The issue is not variability, it's having enough of solar or wind and their associated storage in enough places with good enough connections to other places that might be running short at a particular time." I do not follow your argument. Surely it is the variability of most renewables that gives rise to the need for "enough connections" to "their associated storage" in the first place. I agree that "It's only the grid being able to accept from as well as distribute to many distant places at a time." But I don't see that as a problem. Grids can as easily source or sink energy as required, that is the essence of the Cross Channel Link - France has a different peak time to England thus it is easy to use one set of generators to assist with the peak load of a neighbouring one. However the assistance can be planned because the peaks are known (approximately); the matter becomes much more hazardous with renewable troughs that are not predictable. Worse still, the troughs in wind power can extend for weeks, far beyond any economic strorage facility to fill - storage in any form is very expensive.
  8. Okay so to better understand my opinion, I'm a big free market guy, believe the market is self-correcting and finds its own solutions. When I look at global final energy consumption and I see alternatives contributing between 0-1%, I'm not optomistic. I firmly believe there would be a car running on solar if it were cheaper but I don't think it is. I think we might find that fossil fuels are permanently cheaper than alternatives because of the massive potential in gas hydrates.
    Response:

    [dana1981] My moped runs on solar energy.  A lot of peoples' cars run on solar energy, too.  I'll be one of them in a few years.  Fossil fuels are already more costly than renewable energy, and that includes coal.  Try reading the Renewable energy is too expensive rebuttal.  Right now the "free market" doesn't take into account the full costs of fossil fuel energy.  Not even close.  Economists hate it - it's a market failure.  That's the point of a carbon price, to make the free market work better.

  9. I can see how burning crop residue and plantation forests can be renewable - but how can they be clean? How much CO2 does this energy generation method use?
  10. The very first graph has global energy consumption peaking soon and then declining. That doesn't pass the straight face test.
  11. rcglinski, did you actually read the report that the graph came from ? In it, it states this : In 2050, energy demand is 15 per cent lower than in 2005. Although population, industrial output, passenger travel and freight transport continue to rise as predicted, ambitious energy-saving measures allow us to do more with less. 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. Now, straight-faced or otherwise, what are your arguments against that ? For further information, read the report, especially from page 44.
  12. Sasquatch - As I stated on the earlier thread, renewables can be reliable sources of baseload power. The big misperception that I see is that most people look at renewable power units (single sites), rather than systems. Archer & Jacobson 2007, as I pointed you to earlier, examined wind systems with 19-20 sites, and found that 33-47% of the average output was reliable as baseload power by current availability standards. Extending that, an overbuild of 2.5-3x capacity would be required to provide baseload, with the remainder perhaps available for biofuels, direct CO2->liquid fuel production (net carbon impact of zero), desalination, or other more intermittent uses. Solar, in particular solar thermal, offers the possibility of multiple day backups at individual units with molten salt or other heat storage mechanisms - increasing unit up-time, and adding those benefits to the system support shown in the wind study. The reason a system becomes an order of magnitude more dependable than individual units is because a reasonably sized system extends over more than a single weather pattern - meaning the entire network can't be downed by a single cloudy low pressure system or locally dead air. I would be interested in your reactions to the Archer & Jacobson paper - if you have a chance to read it, please comment on this (on-topic) thread. Solar PV power, incidentally, is on a Moore's Law cost curve, and should soon be cheaper than coal on a per kW basis - even without externalized costs of coal burning accounted for. The same goes for wind power as production ramps up. And renewables are currently the fastest growing sector of power production: solar alone is estimated to provide 50% of the worlds electricity within 50 years - we could likely do it faster if we tried.
    Response: [Sph] Link fixed per request.
  13. Thank you KR for this post. The above link to Archer and Jacobson isn't working for me, but the paper can be found here: Archer and Jacobson 2007
  14. And just in time for this discussion, Climate Crocks has this item on storage because renewables produce too much power sometimes.
  15. Suggested reading: “Solar energy covers earth’s needs thousands of times over,” Lars J. Nilsson, Lund University, Nov 1, 2011 To access this informative article, click here.
  16. In the "advanced" version of the text, you quote an European Renewable Energy Council (EREC)'s study. But EREC is an industrial lobby, as it is specified on their webite : "The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) came into existence in the year 2000, as the voice of the European renewable energy industry." You should inform your reader that there is conflict of interest in this case, because the 'EREC' denomination could suggest it is an independent or academic committee. More broadly, it is better to rely on IPCC report : SRREN 2011. First, informations are updated. Second, anyone familiar with energy literature knows that are lot of "scenarios" in publications, but to qualify them as "plausible" as you did for some is a value judgement quite difficult to found. If you look at the figure 9 of the SRREN SPM, you can see the best estimates of Global RE primary energy supply from 164 scenarios. This is a more clear, more large and so more robust information than selective case studies (and this is why, of course, IPCC reports are precious). The report states : "In scenarios that stabilize the atmospheric CO2 concentrations at a level of less than 440 ppm, the median RE deployment level in 2050 is 248 EJ/yr (139 in 2030), with the highest levels reaching 428 EJ/yr by 2050 (252 in 2030)." (Note that he most optimistic scenario is co-produced by Greenpeace and EREC, previously mentioned, but some other scenarios used in this report are funded by fossil industry, not all scenario are from academic sources). The inter-quartile range (25th to 75th percentile) of the RE supply in this most optimistic scenarios for climate mitigation (450 ppm target) is 180-320 EJ/y in 2050. Current primary energy production for 7 billon humans is 492 EJ (same source, year 2008). It has doubled from 1972 to 2008, as it can be observed in IEA key stats 2010 and it is expected to grow with demography and socio-economic development in emerging countries. Estimated population for 2050 is 8-10,5 billion persons according to the latest UN Population Division projection. The median-variant scenario, supposed to be the more likely, is 9,2 billion persons in 2050, a growth of 20% from now. So, the conclusion from IPCC SRREN 2011 report is that, for a large majority of energy scenarios, it is unlikely RE will be sufficient to cover all the energy supply/demand in 2050. Beside residual fossil use in the energy mix, these scenarios usually include nuclear and CCS (carbon capture and storage) so as to meet the 450 ppm target. They also rely on various assumptions on energy intensity gain in the coming decades so as to reduce the baseload demand (your first point on efficiency). These conclusions will of course evolve in coming years. As SRREN note : Enhanced scientific and engineering knowledge should lead to performance improvements and cost reductions in RE technologies. Additional knowledge related to RE and its role in GHG emissions reductions remains to be gained in a number of broad areas including: • Future cost and timing of RE deployment; • Realizable technical potential for RE at all geographical scales; • Technical and institutional challenges and costs of integrating diverse RE technologies into energy systems and markets; • Comprehensive assessments of socioeconomic and environmental aspects of RE and other energy technologies; • Opportunities for meeting the needs of developing countries with sustainable RE services; and • Policy, institutional and financial mechanisms to enable cost-effective deployment of RE in a wide variety of contexts. Knowledge about RE and its climate change mitigation potential continues to advance It must be finally noted that expected RE penetration doesn't imply necessarily all costs will decrease, as SRREN recalls : "As the penetration of variable RE sources increases, maintaining system reliability may become more challenging and costly. Having a portfolio of complementary RE technologies is one solution to reduce the risks and costs of RE integration. Other solutions include the development of complementary fl exible generation and the more flexible operation of existing schemes; improved short-term forecasting, system operation and planning tools; electricity demand that can respond in relation to supply availability; energy storage technologies (including storage-based hydropower); and modifi ed institutional arrangements. Electricity network transmission (including interconnections between systems) and/or distribution infrastructure may need to be strengthened and extended, partly because of the geographical distribution and fixed remote locations of many RE resources." As KR noted in #12, units are not systems, so the decarbonization of energy doesn't solely consist to add RE units.
  17. skept.fr @16, I am having difficulty accepting the genuineness of your criticisms, which seem to be nitpicking and inconsistent: 1) Regarding EREC, that it is an industry body is clearly identified on the second page of the report linked above, so there is no concealment. Nor does it follow from the fact that it is an industry body that their scenario is unrealistic. If you have any specific criticisms of that report, and others relied on in the advanced article, you should make them. 2) Your preference for relying on the IPCC seems very inconsistent, and evaporates when doing so does not support your position (as I have shown on a previous thread). As a case in point, you quote the SSREN 2011 report as saying:
    "In scenarios that stabilize the atmospheric CO2 concentrations at a level of less than 440 ppm, the median RE deployment level in 2050 is 248 EJ/yr (139 in 2030), with the highest levels reaching 428 EJ/yr by 2050 (252 in 2030)."
    (My emphasis) The clear import of these words is that scenarios in which Renewable Energy only constitutes 248 EJ/yr can meet a target of 440 ppmv (ie, inside the 450 ppmv guard rail). Yet you have quoted these figures from this report as proof that the 450 ppmv target cannot be met. If you wish to rely on the IPCC, then rely on the IPCC. Given your repeated mantra that we should only rely on the IPCC, your selective reliance shows you are pushing an agenda. 3) It is also noteworthy that you pick out as worthy of mention that the Advanced REvolution scenario was co-produced by EREC and greenpeace. In the first instance, that is incorrect. It was sponsored by Greenpeace and EREC, but it was produced by a number of scholars two of whom where employed by Greenpeace, but the rest of whom where academics. In the second instance you neglect the obvious point that it was accepted as a plausible scenario by the IPCC, including a panel with more members with commercial ties to the fossil fuel industry than those with ties to RE bodies, or activist organizations. In the third instance you neglect the fact that it was independently published in a peer reviewed journal. Your attempt to poison the water against this scenario is a further example of your inconsistency in reliance on the IPCC, which only appears when deployable as a rhetorical device in your arguments. 4) It is a simple fact that all existing power plants will exceed their current design life by 2060 at the latest, and most well before that. It is also a fact that renewable energy can currently supply energy at a cost that is only 2 to 3 times current costs using fossil fuels at most, and arguably current designs cost significantly less. Given that energy use represents a very small part of total GDP, and given the very large expenditures in our society on frivolities, there is no doubt that we have the technical capacity to meet nearly all our energy needs with RE by 2050 by the simple expedient of replacing obsolete plants with RE plants as the reach their designed age limit, and by ensuring all new plants are RE plants. What is lacking is not the ability but the political will.
  18. #17 Tom 1) SkS Comments Policy indicates : 'You may criticise a person's methods but not their motives' So please, stick on that and stop with insulting metaphor like "Your attempt to poison the water". My point above was informative and IPCC-based. I don't want to lose time with endless over-interpretations of each of my word here. 2) You call "pick out" some informations that have been widely discussed, notably in Nature Climate Change. So I suppose my "pick out" is nor more that information for readers from the science news on climate. Every one can read here and here this debate about the SRREN 2011. Of course [r]Evolution is eligible to SRREN (it has been!) as are the fossil-funded scenario I mention on my comment. And in a previous comment in the WEO2011 discussion, I speak of Dr Teske as a scientist and lead author of SRREN 2011 (that is of course compatible with the fact that the [r]–Evolution model Dr Teske manages is an order from EREC-Greenpeace). 3) As far I remember, I've quoted these data in the IEA WEO2011 discussion not for "proving" the 450 target cannot be sustained (our point). Here is what I actually said : Unless you cherrypick optimistic models (exactly as some persons cherrypick optimistic CO2 sensitivity, but they are not serious for that reason), you have a higher probability of modest contribution of RE in the future energy mix : about 50% of the primary energy we consume now, but in 2050 there will be 9 billions humans to feed, heat, educate, etc. and we hope in better conditions than now. Most of these models depend on nuclear, biofuel, CCS coal, etc. Another strawman from you : I said exactly what I say here, quite in different terms, 248 EJ/y from RE is half our current production, most scenarios rely on nuclear, CCS, etc. 4) "What is lacking is not the ability but the political will" You can perfectly defend this personal and general interpretation, that was not my point. I just give some results from SRREN 2011, informative for anyone is interested in the energy conditions of climate mitigation.
    Response:

    [DB] "stop with insulting metaphor like "Your attempt to poison the water""

    Straw man.  Tom criticizes your methods, not your motives (as your quotation from the Comments Policy clearly points out).  No style points here are awarded for rhetorical techniques employed.

    In the future, please better adhere to the Comments Policy yourself rather than attempting to use it to chastise others.  And sticking to facts and citable sources from the peer-reviewed literature will better support your position instead of snark and sarcasm.

  19. skept.fr @18: 1) Reference to "poisoning the water" or "poisoning the wells" is reference to a rhetorical tactic, and hence is a comment on your methods, not your motives. What is more, as you apply similar (and inaccurate) methodological claims about myself (see your point 3), and have directly questioned other commentors motives in other threads, your challenge here is hypocritical to say the least. 2) The [r]Evolution scenario was widely, and unjustifiably, attacked based on its authorship at the time of release of the SSREN report for political reasons. I have extensively argued against that attack both here and on the blog of Mark Lynas, the author the Nature Climate Change article to which you refer. Applying Lynas' implicit standard that employees of, and papers commissioned by, advocacy groups should automatically be excluded IPCC processes is unsustainable both because it excludes some work of genuine quality, and because a similar standard is not applied (and could not be applied) to industry groups, notably fossil fuel industry groups. 3) You said in the Farenheight 451 thread:
    "[KR] I think renewable energy development can be a definite win-win scenario [skept.fr] I already gave above the numbers from IPCC SRREN 2011 concerning real capacities of RE in 2050 according to the median estimate of energy-economy scenarios. So you have to be specific : in a 450 ppm target in 2050, RE are planned to likely produce something like 250EJ/y, half of what we need now for 7 billion (500 EJ), not to say what we will need tomorrow for 9 billion."
    The context of that discussion was your challenge to the pausibility of achieving a 450 ppmv target, which you then when on to so sarcastically describe. I note that the various SSREN scenarios all allow for an increasing population and ongoing third world development. As the entire basis of your argument against a 450 ppmv target is that it is incompatible with population growth and third world development. Given that you purport that we should accept the IPCC conclusions (at least whenever they agree with you), then we ought also to accept the conclusion that a 450 ppmv target is consistent with ongoing population growth and third world development. There is therefore, no straw man here of my construction. I see that you have been picking a lot of cherries, however.
  20. OK, as I first did in #16, let’s keep on a science-based discussion and avoid OT futilities. I will discuss here the different proposals of your text. SkS : ‘Of course in an ideal world, renewable sources would meet all of our energy needs.’ We must first precise that is not an ‘ideal’, but a necessity. No civilization can be founded on non renewable resources like fossil fuels, and it is extremely likely the actual 80% fossil world energy mix would lead us to an energy, climate and economy collapse during this century. Even for a layperson blind to deleterious climate change, the dependency of our economy and society to fossil fuel is to be viewed as a highly risky bet. There is no consensus between experts on the total amount of recoverable quantities of fossil sources (eg Höök 2010, Chiari 2011) and some analysts (for example Lipson 2011) even suggest our current recession is partly due to a too high depedency to fossil energy sources (notably already-depleted conventional oil) and their high volatility prices (also of interest Jin and Fan 2011 on commodity effect, Chen 2010 on bear market trend, etc.). All that is subject to debate among specialists (see Segal 2011 for an example of counter-interpretation), but it would be at least unreasonable to plan the long term development of humanity and welfare of future generations on such a fragile socle. For a more precise example, as SkS mentioned the gas as a possible and less pollutant than coal part of baseload power during the coming transition, in a recent estimate of gas ultimately recoverable resource ( Mohr et Evans 2011) comparing six scenarios with different assumptions, gas production should peak between 2025 and 2066 at 140–217 EJ/y. As a production peak implies an exploding market price, with deleterious effect on economy and society, and as energy transition are decades-long challenge, we can rely partly on gas for the first part of the century but our energy targets for 2050 and beyond should by no way include gas as an inexhaustible resource it is not. Of course, when present and projected climate externalities of fossil use are integrated, the probability of collapse (at least sustained recession and associated problems) is even higher because part of our precious but rare energy will be devoted to costly adaptations to climate change, rather than to productive activities. So, the ‘precautionary principle’ as well as the physical limits of resources indicate that a renewable-based energy mix will be a necessity for this century, not jus an ideal. One of the SRREN 2011 robust conclusions is that even for scenarios without ambitious climate targets, the part of RE in the primary energy supply is planned to increase in coming decades for all models. And of course, the more ambitious our climate targets, the more fastly RE will penetrate the energy system. I think there is no reasonable objection to these basic facts. As most REs have lower known externalities than fossil or nuclear sources, and as they can supply the long term goals necessary to all human society, the only objections to a large deployment we can meet in literature is either the relative cost (economical objection) or the large-scale feasibility (technical objection). The point of this SkS article is the second family of objections, and I’ll make some further observations about each RE.
  21. skept.fr @20, I welcome the return of the fact based focus which have made your posts such enjoyable reads for me, with the exception of certain recent departures. I appreciate your excellent summary of the situation. I find little to disagree with, and nothing fundamental. My only quibble is with your claim that peak production of gas inevitably means "exploding market prices". Price increases are effectively limited by the price of the nearest effective substitute. For gas this may be supposed to be some combination of renewable energy on the assumption that, renewable energy in 2050 will be cheaper in real terms per kilowatthour than currently, and that in 2050, carbon prices will make coal too expensive. In that circumstance, rising prices associated with peak production will just drive energy supply across to renewable (or nuclear) energy. If Renewable Energy is already cheaper than gas per kilowatthour, there may well be no price increase with peak production, but only a retreat into specialist uses such as the Haber-Bosch process in which gas retains a competitive advantage.
  22. #21 Tom : I agree of course with your point. I was probably not clear because I mentioned SkS reference to gas, but my point was related to peak risk in the hypothesis of a business as usual scenario  – in fact, what we do for the moment. If a peak (oil, gas or coal) occurs when you haven't already and seriously engaged your energy transition toward other sources, and so limited your dependency to the peaking source, you will have major problems to develop rapidly substitutes because the economic effect of the unprepared peak will seriously damage your existing infrastructure and your economic capacity to invest. Such a short-termism is unfortunately the way we choose for the moment, we are blind to energy as to climate risks. I think we hope that the market prices correctly reflect the value of an energy source at all timescale. IMO, it doesn't. Not only market prices ignore the long-term externalities from climate, but they also ignore the real geologic quantities of carbon sources (asymmetry of information) and the time/effort needed by a human society to engage an energy transition (moral hazard, unrealistic discount rate). Market prices, at least in their current condition of emergence, are the produces of such short-term and poor-informed anticipation that they are not pertinent for climate and energy policy choices. But I'll not deepen these points here, as the real subject of the SkS article is the technological level of RE alternative to fossil energy.
  23. Not much time right now, but I continue with some general views from the SRREN 2011. First, orders of magnitude. Readers must recall that we currently produce 492 EJ/y, but with 197 EJ/y losses in production, transportation and conversion of energy, so we actually consume 294 EJ/y. On this table, IPCC authors give the technical potential of RE, minimum and maximum, as estimated by literature. Technical potential is what we could produce from renewable sources (wind, sun, ocean, geothermia, biomass) with current technology. So, the good new is that even the minimum estimates of RE potential total as high as approx 1900 EJ/y, that is nearly five times what we produce now (at 80% from fossil). As this estimate results from actual knowledges and devices: it is not an optimistic projection of what we could do in an hypothetical future with an hypothetical progress, but an assessment of what we could do now. This figure helps to see where the biggest potentials are and are not. For example, hydropower estimate are convergent but low, 50 EJ /y for minimum and 52 EJ/y for maximum. So, we should not rely to hydro as a baseload power, because it too low for our needs, except in some very well endowed countries like Norway (99% of electricity production from hydro). Wind and mostly solar have the highest potential for producing electricity and heat. I’ll try to adress later these two energy sources. Production of primary energy or electricity is one thing, but the real challenge is of course to satisfy our final uses in society, so to transport, store, convert this energy.
  24. Suggested reading: “Obstacles to Danish Wind Power” by James Kanter, New York Times, Jan 22, 2012 Click here to access this timely and informative article.
  25. This article from Bloomburg says solar power is now cheaper than diesel in India. Many companies have diesel generators because the power grid cannot keep up with peak demand and they have rolling blackouts. Solar is being installed primarily because it is cheaper. It also generates during the day when blackouts are more common. Solar only became cheaper than diesel last year. Coal is still considerably cheaper than solar but solar is easy for small users to install. Companies install solar on the roofs of buildings.

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