Skip to main content

21 Experts Debunk a Radical Claim about Renewable Energy

Energy experts are at war over a radical assertion that by mid-century the United States will be able to meet all its energy needs with wind, solar and hydro power.

The claim was made in 2015 by four academic researchers, led by Mark Z. Jacobson, for the continental United States, and it asserts that those renewables will replace not just the coal and natural gas used to make electricity, but also the gasoline and diesel that run cars and trucks, and the gas used in home heating. The paper is regularly cited by environmentalists who claim that the current fleet of U.S. nuclear reactors could close without any consequences to grid reliability.

But last week, a group of prominent researchers, some from Stanford and UC-Berkeley, and others from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Carnegie Mellon and other mainstream organizations, published a second paper that said that while they support the expanded use of renewables, Professor Jacobson et al. were dreaming.

One of the authors of the second paper said that it was dangerous to rely on such a narrow strategy. “I had largely ignored the papers arguing that doing all with renewables was possible at negative costs because they struck me as obviously incorrect,” David Victor of the University of California, San Diego, told The New York Times. But, he said, “when policy makers started using this paper for scientific support, I thought, ‘this paper is dangerous.’”

The dangers, critics say, is that we could step away from other technologies that are essential to reducing air pollution. We have one in mind in particular: nuclear energy.

After the publication of the skeptical assessment, some non-academic behavior followed. Prof. Jacobson said that the new critique had deliberate falsehoods, and that it was “dangerous because virtually every sentence in it is inaccurate.”

The essential problem for advocates of a system based on solar and wind is that their production is not only intermittent, but to the extent it is predictable, it does not match the pattern of demand. Solar production is, by definition, best at noon, but electricity demand is higher when the sun is going down. In many regions, demand is high in winter, when there is less sun. Wind is also out of sync with seasonal demand. Even on a daily basis, it blows strongest late at night, not a peak period. With the limited deployment of solar and wind that we have now, often energy from those sources must be thrown away, because it comes at the wrong times.

Seasonal mismatch between supply and demand on grid
Wind and sun production don’t match demand patterns in any of the American electric markets. Credit: Jared Moore, Ph.D., of Meridian Energy Policy

Operators of hydroelectric generators can usually hoard their water until times when the electricity is most needed, but there are limits, and getting approval to build big new dams is exceptionally hard. Carbon capture and storage, which would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of fossil fuel plants, is thus far very expensive. The other large scale no-carbon source is nuclear, but Professor Jacobson dislikes nuclear energy.

In any case, we’re cheered to see the “all of the above” strategy reaffirmed with scientific rigor.

The above is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…