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Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030

Credits: ©2009 Ian London/Rare Metal Blog

“Wind, Water and Solar technologies can provide 100 per cent of the world’s energy, eliminating all fossil fuels”... Now there’s a rather bold prophecy, according to Ian London on the Rare Metal Blog. London reviews an article in the November 2009 edition of Scientific American (link below) by Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi. In the article the authors outline such a scenario and its implications in advance of December’s upcoming Copenhagen Climate Conference at which world leaders are to attempt to set limits of greenhouse gases for the next two decades. Jacobson teaches civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University where he also heads its Atmosphere/Energy program. Delicchi is research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California - Davis. Key Concepts from Scientific American include:

* Supplies of wind and solar energy on accessible land dwarf the energy consumed by people around the globe.

* The authors’ plan calls for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide.

* The cost of generating and transmitting power would be less than the projected cost per kilowatt-hour for fossil-fuel and nuclear power.

* Shortages of a few specialty materials, along with lack of political will, loom as the greatest obstacles.

 

Polar Station Wind Turbines

Cabling the wind turbines at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station. Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi analyze the feasibility of providing all our energy for all purposes from wind, water, and the sun (WWS). The manufacture of hundreds of thousands MW-size wind turbines would require very large amounts of bulk materials such as steel and concrete. However, the authors report that there do not appear to be any significant environmental or economic constraints on expanded production of these bulk materials that could provide up to half our power needs. ©2009 Rene Robert/International Polar Foundation

The underlying scenario is based on a 2009 study that ranked energy systems according to their impact on global warming, pollution, water supply, land use and other concerns. The report, as I would have expected rated “wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and hydropower - all of which are driven by wind, water or sunlight – a WWS system” as the best options. The rather far reaching scenario is neatly summarized by the following:


- “There will be a need for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide.


- That the supplies of wind and solar energy on accessible land dwarf the energy consumed by people around the globe.


- That the cost of generating and transmitting power would be less than the projected cost per kilowatt-hour for fossil-fuel and nuclear power, but


- The shortages of a few specialty materials, along with lack of political will, loom as the greatest obstacles.”

Jacobson and Delucci work identifies five metals whose availability or lack thereof could be most problematic in fully delivering the plan. These metals are Neodymium, Indium, Lithium, Silver, and Platinum (the first three of which are regularly address on the RMB). The illustration below summarizes the key contributions of these materials, although Nd, In and Li have many other application in a green technologies.

Jacobson and Delucci’s plan is far reaching noting that the overall construction cost would be in the order of 100 trillion dollars over 20 years, not including transmission. The author believe that “when the so-called externalities costs, that is the monetary value of damages to human health, the environment and climate) of fossil fuel generation are taken into account, the WWS technologies become even more cost competitive”

The article is structured under the six sub-headings:


- Clean Technologies Only


- Plenty of Supply


- The Plan: Power Plants Required


- The Materials Hurdle

Smart Mix for Reliability


- As Cheap as Coal, and


- Political Will.

The authors claim that “a decade ago, it was not clear that a global WWS system would be technically or economically feasible. They believe, and in several respects I share the same, that industry and academia have made significant progress in moving the yardsticks towards that goal.

The article has its supporters, but it also has its detractors... as exemplified by comments posted on number of websites (just search Jacobson & Delucci). Irrespective if they are fully correct or not, it is helpful that we give thoughtful consideration for the world we will the next generation, and if we’re not satisfied, laying out plans to leave them with what we do want.

Mark Jacobson and Mark  Delucchi Summarize their paper:
A large-scale wind, water, and solar energy system can reliably supply all of the world’s energy needs, with significant benefit to climate, air quality, water quality, ecological systems, and energy security, at reasonable cost. To accomplish this, we need about 4 million 5 MW wind turbines, 90,000 300-MW solar PV plus CSP power plants, 1.9 billion 3 kW solar PV rooftop systems, and lesser amounts of geothermal, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric plants and devices.

The obstacles to realizing this are primarily social and political, not technological. As discussed

above, a combination of feed-in tariffs and an intelligently expanded and re-organized

transmission system may be necessary but not sufficient to enough ensure rapid deployment of

WWS technologies. With sensible broad-based policies and social changes, it may be possible to

convert 25% of the current energy system to WWS in 10-15 years and 85% in 20-30 years.

Absent that clear direction, the conversion will take longer, potentially 40-50 years.

The full article is available below in pdf format, or on-line with a subscription to Scientic American, or you can view the web-only rich-media article, A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030, which appears in the November 2009 issue of Scientific American.Click here

Read the full 38-page draft report by authors Jacobson and Delucci, titled Evaluating the Feasibility of a

Large-Scale Wind,Water, and Sun Energy Infrastructure on

the Stanford website. Noted as follows: “Incomplete Draft for Review - Do Not Cite, Quote, Copy or Distribute"

Relevant books:

Sustainable Energy: Choosing among Options

Energy Autonomy


Documents

  A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030 (1,456 kb)

  Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security (1,330 kb)


Resources

Wind Energy Podcasts

Large-scale Photovoltaic Power Plants Rankings (Global)


Videos

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Evaluating Energy Solutions to Climate Change Video