Mark Z. Jacobson is a researcher at Stanford who has made a splash recently with his findings that, both technologically and economically, it’s possible for us to migrate away from fossil fuels in the direction of renewable energy. He’s even been on the (late-night television show) David Letterman to present his case to casual viewers at home.
In essence, he wants to see 50% of our planet’s 15 terawatts coming from solar, another 40% from wind (mainly offshore), and most of the rest of it from hydrokinetics.
I believe Jacobson is 100% correct that we can phase out fossil fuels altogether; in fact, I think we must. But I was surprised to see his solution.
First, though I’d love to see tons of offshore wind for a variety of reasons (aesthetics, better wind conditions, less impact on bird and bat populations), but it’s expensive.
Second, while he understands that solar and wind are variable, his idea of somehow packaging solar with wind and hydro and transmitting an integration of the three to the population centers sounds far-fetched. I think most people see this problem solved, at least partially, with energy storage.
Third, I think we need to acknowledge that a practical solution needs to be politically feasible, and I’m not sure this approach is best vis-à-vis the lay of the land politically.
If we are to say goodbye to fossil fuels, it will happen by:
• Removing the enormous subsidies for fossil fuels and creating a level playing field for clean energy in terms of capital formation
• Internalizing the externalities of energy, forcing all generators and consumers of energy to pay the true and comprehensive costs associated with what they’re doing
• Encouraging public and private capital to flow into clean energy R&D; this includes nuclear, btw, especially thorium; most people who study the subject believe that success can’t happen in the absence of nuclear
• Investing heavily in energy efficiency, especially in retrofitting our buildings, creating huge numbers of new jobs
• Rapidly phasing out coal before the environmental devastation from this resource becomes irreparable
• Making smart grid happen (especially smart cities)
• Creating energy storage solutions that support the integration of large amounts of variable resources
• Rebuilding our grid, enabling high-voltage transmission over long distances
• Replacing liquid hydrocarbon fuels with electric transportation, further absorbing off-peak renewable energy, i.e., generation that does not correspond to load
As always I eagerly anticipate readers’ comments.