A new study by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, of UC-Davis, analyzing what is needed to convert the world’s energy supplies to clean sources, says that it can be done with today’s technology at costs roughly comparable to conventional energy.
According to a new study coauthored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson, we could accomplish all that by converting the world to clean, renewable energy sources and forgoing fossil fuels.
“Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources,” said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will.”
The world they envision would run largely on electricity. Their plan calls for using wind, water and solar energy to generate power, with wind and solar power contributing 90 percent of the needed energy.
Geothermal and hydroelectric sources would each contribute about 4 percent in their plan (70 percent of the hydroelectric is already in place), with the remaining 2 percent from wave and tidal power.
“We wanted to quantify what is necessary in order to replace all the current energy infrastructure – for all purposes – with a really clean and sustainable energy infrastructure within 20 to 40 years,” said Jacobson.
“When you actually account for all the costs to society – including medical costs – of the current fuel structure, the costs of our plan are relatively similar to what we have today,” Jacobson said.
One of the biggest hurdles with wind and solar energy is that both can be highly variable, which has raised doubts about whether either source is reliable enough to provide “base load” energy, the minimum amount of energy that must be available to customers at any given hour of the day.
Jacobson said that the variability can be overcome.
“The most important thing is to combine renewable energy sources into a bundle,” he said. “If you combine them as one commodity and use hydroelectric to fill in gaps, it is a lot easier to match demand.”
“One of the most promising methods of insuring that supply matches demand is using long-distance transmission to connect widely dispersed sites,” said Delucchi.
“With a system that is 100 percent wind, water and solar, you can’t use normal methods for matching supply and demand. You have to have what people call a supergrid, with long-distance transmission and really good management,” he said.