By Mark Z. Jacobson
Wind, water and solar energy is cheap, effective and green. We don’t need experimental or risky energy sources to save our planet.
Nearly 7 million people die each year from air pollution. Moreover, global warming is already causing catastrophic damage. We have only seven years to eliminate 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – and 12 to 27 years to eliminate the rest – to avoid 1.5C global warming since the 1850 to 1900 period. We are already 1.1C above average.
The world also faces serious energy-security risks related to climate change: the economic, social, and political instability that will result when fossil fuels and uranium run out; blackmail by countries that control the supply of fuel to other countries; the high costs of shipping energy long distances; blackouts when a centralized fossil-fuel or nuclear power plant unexpectedly goes down; and health and environmental problems associated with continuous fuel mining, waste storage, nuclear reactor meltdown, and nuclear energy-related weapons proliferation.
Given the magnitude of these problems and the urgency of a solution to them, it is no surprise that the best solution is one that can be implemented quickly and at low cost. Enter wind, water and solar (WWS). WWS includes energy from the wind (onshore and offshore wind electricity), the water (hydroelectricity, tidal and ocean current electricity, wave electricity, geothermal electricity and geothermal heat), and the sun (solar photovoltaic electricity, concentrated solar power electricity and heat, and direct solar heat).
When combined with electricity storage, heat storage, cold storage and hydrogen storage; techniques to encourage people to shift the time of their electricity use (demand response); a well-interconnected electrical transmission system; and nifty and efficient electrical appliances, such as heat pumps, induction cooktops, electric vehicles and electric furnaces for industry, WWS can solve the ginormous problems associated with climate change at low cost worldwide.
So, if we have almost all that we need, why do we need “miracle technologies” being proposed ad nauseam to solve these problems?
We don’t. We do not need carbon capture and storage or use, direct air capture storage or use, blue hydrogen, new nuclear power, or bioenergy. Carbon capture equipment extracts carbon dioxide from power plants or other industrial sources. Direct air capture equipment extracts carbon dioxide directly from the air. Blue hydrogen is hydrogen produced from natural gas with carbon capture equipment added to remove the resulting carbon dioxide.
These three technologies, which all require equipment and energy, merely increase air pollution, fuel mining and fossil-fuel infrastructure, thus energy insecurity, while hardly reducing carbon dioxide. They all increase energy requirements by 30% or so compared with no capture, have average capture efficiencies of 20 to 80% rather than the 90 to 95% claimed, and increase, not decrease, carbon dioxide from the fuel mining and transport by requiring more energy.
Furthermore, 73% of all carbon dioxide captured today is used to help dig more oil out of the ground. This process releases about 40% of the captured carbon back to the air in addition to producing more dirty oil. These technologies are opportunity costs whose real effects are to extend the life of the fossil fuel industry.
In addition, new nuclear suffers from a 10- to 21-year time lag between planning and operation (too long to be useful for immediately addressing the climate crisis), costs that are five to eight times those of new wind and solar per unit energy, weapons proliferation risk, meltdown risk, waste risk, underground uranium mining health risk, and carbon dioxide emissions that are nine to 37 times those of onshore wind. Bioenergy produces air pollution and greenhouse gases while using rapacious amounts of land and water.