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Stanford, UCD Researchers Say 100% Renewable Energy Possible By 2050 360

Posted by timothy
from the triumph-of-the-will dept.
thecarchik writes with news of an analysis published in Energy Policy by researchers from Stanford University and the University of California-Davis. "There are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources, said author Mark Jacobson, a Stanford professor, saying it is only a question of 'whether we have the societal and political will.' During this decade, the two 'fuels of the future' will be electricity and gasoline. Beyond that, we can't project."
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Stanford, UCD Researchers Say 100% Renewable Energy Possible By 2050

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  • by intellitech (1912116) * on Friday February 18, 2011 @05:06AM (#35241882)

    Hopefully before crude oil hits $250 a barrel [wordpress.com] (which will happen sometime around 2035 or later) and the world spins out of control. What's especially interesting is looking at the rising food costs and population growth side-by-side with peak oil graphs [inteldaily.com].

    • There was an article in The Economist a few months back about several companies that are working on what's essentially synthetic gasoline and that they are planning on producing in significant volumes within the next three years or so. I'm eager for practical alternatives to oil so that we can stop kissing OPEC's ass.
      • by spydum (828400) on Friday February 18, 2011 @07:51AM (#35242430)

        Gasoline is not the only thing derived from petroleum resources.. You will still depend heavily on OPEC for all of your plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, and thousands of other uses. So OPEC will still continue to be pretty difficult to ignore.

        • If fuel can be made from petroleum substitutes, this frees up petroleum for petro-chemicals, plastics, fertilizers, etc. I'd be slightly surprised, but only slightly, if US domestic production of oil couldn't satisfy all non-fuel needs in the US. And if can't, then there are all oil exporting non-OPEC nations like Canada, Great Britain, Russia, China, Mexico, Brazil, etc.

        • by hitmark (640295)

          Dunno about the rest, but plastics can be replaced by lignin.

          http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28283260/ [msn.com]

        • by radl33t (900691)
          Not really. Solving the liquid fuel problem will unburden 90%+ of crude demand. OPEC will lose all power. It is not inherently more difficult to synthesize petroleum byproducts as well..
        • by Nemyst (1383049)

          81% of petroleum goes into fuel production, in the US. If we remove that percentage from common use, we go from approximately 90,000 bbl a day to under 20,000. That's about the production of just the US and Russia combined. Alternatively, the US, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Brazil and the UK would do the same job. That still leaves many other countries whose smaller production can add up to something not all that negligible, and it assumes current levels of production for all countries listed. On top of that, t

        • To be more precise, gasoline + a bit of diesel [wikipedia.org] is half of all oil consumption. As you can see from this graph [piggington.com], if we combine US production and Canadian production, we'll be pretty close to kicking OPEC to the curb. Although most likely we'll just reduce consumption from all sources.
      • Somewhat longer term, though, there's the question of whether we can continue to afford internal combustion engines with a thermal efficiency around 20%. The same feedstocks and some of the processes for producing synthetic gasoline could also be used to produce methane; methane can power a combined-cycle electric generator at about 60% thermal efficiency. Almost all well-to-wheel (or other source-to-wheel) studies suggest that electric cars provide a 2:1 advantage, plus or minus a bit, in overall energy
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What's especially interesting is looking at the rising food costs and population growth side-by-side with peak oil graphs [inteldaily.com].

      Is it really that interesting? My kitchen has fruit from Mexico, cheese from Ireland, beer from Europe and the rest - while in country - is shipped across a continent to get to me.

      Of course food prices will go hand in hand with rising energy costs.

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>Hopefully before crude oil hits $250 a barrel (which will happen sometime around 2035 or later) and the world spins out of control.

      Riiiiight. Because there are no other sources for gasoline, right?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer%E2%80%93Tropsch_process [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_shale [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_sands [wikipedia.org]

      At $250 a barrel, it becomes tremendously profitable to convert coal into gasoline. This drives up production, which will drive down

    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      The main issue is cost of such move. Even if all the humanity decided this is needed and necessary, the raw materials needed to this change would alone like require global mining development investment that would dwarf budget of USA as most of these clean technologies tend to require (really) rare earths and certain chemical compounds that are quite scarce and unlikely to be made much cheaper even by economy of mass production due to natural scarcity in earth crust.

      Not to even talk of much bigger bill of co

    • Overpopulation is a myth

      http://overpopulationisamyth.com/ [overpopula...samyth.com]

      Please read, learn and revise opinion accordingly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bouldin (828821)

        Wow, what a horrible site full of misinformation and straw man arguments.

        This site was funded by the Bradley Foundation [wikipedia.org], who also funded hard-right "think tank" groups such as PNAC, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Federalist Society. The authors affirm [pop.org] they are a network of "pro-life" groups.

        The site begins by linking belief in overpopulation to efforts to kill the poor and promote Chinese abortions, then proceeds with meaningless factoids (all the humans on earth could

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Energy is just *one* of the ways we use petroleum today. Petroleum by-products are in almost everything. If it hits $250 a barrel, we're going to have a LOT more to worry about than our gasoline.

  • by KarlIsNotMyName (1529477) on Friday February 18, 2011 @05:25AM (#35241938)

    Maybe we'll be a few steps closer to being able to cover the Sahara desert with solar panels if more regimes fall. A deal between the EU and the new hopefully democratic governments?

  • fools of the future (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 18, 2011 @05:31AM (#35241958)

    During this decade, the two 'fuels of the future' will be electricity and gasoline.

    Electricty isn't a fuel.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Friday February 18, 2011 @05:37AM (#35241978)

    ... so fuck 'em. My generation had a pain in the ass dealing with all the bullshit that mere existence dished out, so let's just let's just leave nuclear waste, lack of petroleum based fuels, etc, as a problem for forthcoming generations.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We'll just have China make all the composites and fabricate all the solar panels, mine and refine all the nickle and do all the other nasty work to make our 'clean' new 'renewable' energy system work. Install it here in the West and not talk about the contaminants and pollution we've exported to Asian kids.

    Yay 'green' energy. When we're done we'll congratulate ourselves and buff moral cred.

  • Of course, everything is possible if we have the societal and political will. What's new here?
  • Breeder reactors are clean and never run out of fuel. Hydro is very dirty from enviromental view and very destructive. Solar is getting better. Wind and wave are also dead ends for total replacement as they dont scale. Geothermal and hydrogen could be viable, too.

    • by k8to (9046)

      Breeder reactors are relatively efficient. "Never run out of fuel" is a pipe dream. The 1800s perpetual motion machines want to talk to you.

      • Even ignoring thorium for the moment, the uranium supply for breeder reactors is inexhaustible by any sensible definition.

        You can extract uranium from seawater, in principle. The only real question is the cost. However, with breeder reactors the fuel cost is essentially irrelevant, so this is no barrier.

        Enough uranium is added to the ocean every year (by eroding land dissolving) to more than meet any conceivable level of energy demand, if it was burned in a breeder reactor.

        It's not a perpetual motion mach

    • Please do explain how "Hydro is very dirty from environmental view and very destructive". Then, if you are able to explain that, try to correlate your beliefs with the fact that damming rivers has a whole lot more to do with regulating floods and managing water supplies than it has to do with power generation.

    • by dachshund (300733)

      Wind and wave are also dead ends for total replacement as they dont scale. ... Geothermal and hydrogen could be viable, too.

      Nobody's asking for total replacement. Most likely the energy mixture of the future is going to be a bunch of baseload nuclear plus quite a bit of variable power from solar, wind, tidal, etc.

      The advantage of solar and wind is that there's a phenomenal amount of energy in these sources. Either one can provide more than enough power to satisfy all of our needs. The major challenge is

  • by tsa (15680)

    As if looking one year into the future isn't difficult enough. The whole article is just wishful thinking.

    • by bunratty (545641)
      Actually, it can be easy to predict technological progress. The most popular technological prediction is Moore's Law. What's more interesting is whether we would be following Moore's Law if we didn't believe we could. If we had politicians saying we couldn't do it, and trying would destroy our economy, perhaps we'd be stuck with 20 MHz 32-bit processors.
  • PR Puff Piece (Score:5, Informative)

    by jamesl (106902) on Friday February 18, 2011 @06:05AM (#35242090)

    This Stanford PR piece has received a lot of "coverage" -- mostly cut and paste.

    Here are links to the original papers.
    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/JDEnPolicyPt1.pdf [stanford.edu]
    http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/DJEnPolicyPt2.pdf [stanford.edu]

    We estimate that 3,800,000 5 MW wind turbines, 49,000 300 MW concentrated solar plants, 40,000 300 MW solar
    PV power plants, 1.7 billion 3 kWrooftop PV systems, 5350 100 MWgeothermal power plants, 270
    new 1300 MWhydroelectric power plants, 720,000 0.75 MWwave devices, and 490,000 1 MWtidal
    turbines can power a 2030 WWS world that uses electricity and electrolytic hydrogen for all purposes. ...
    Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic.

    I'm sure everybody will want to study the papers in detail. And hold on to your checkbooks.

    • Re:PR Puff Piece (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Olivier Galibert (774) on Friday February 18, 2011 @06:20AM (#35242128)

      Niiiiiiice. $19 trillions just for the wind turbines (around 5M each), $100 trillions for the rooftop PV systems (around 60K each), but there is no economic issue. Right.

      Only $135 billions for the dams (around 500M each)... if you can find 270 new places in where to put them...

          OG.

      • Re:PR Puff Piece (Score:5, Interesting)

        by locofungus (179280) on Friday February 18, 2011 @07:09AM (#35242288)

        Niiiiiiice. $19 trillions just for the wind turbines (around 5M each), $100 trillions for the rooftop PV systems (around 60K each), but there is no economic issue. Right.

        85 million bbl/day oil consumption (2007)

        At $100 per bbl that's $8.5 billion per day or, by 2050 $120 trillion, almost exactly the same cost as you've given above.

        Oil is less than $100/bbl now but is almost certainly going to be a lot more than $100/bbl by 2050 (unless, of course, we've switched most of our power generation to alternatives so that there's no longer the same demand)

        Right now, migrating off oil is looking approximately economically neutral. There's a cashflow issue - if we do it over the next 40 years we're going to need about $3 trillion tied up in building new infrastructure (assuming it takes about 1 year from starting building to bringing something on line - dams are obviously slower, wind farms seem to be quicker). But the longer we leave it the more urgent it's going to become (eventually there will be a time when we have to be off oil) and the more cash we'll have to tie up in order to build the infrastructure more quickly.

        Tim.

        • by giorgist (1208992)
          You forget that Canada and Venezuella each have tar sands that are equivalent to the words oil reserves.
          A nuclear plant can create cheap steam. If a barel of oil hits $200 then it will be economical to make them oil without nuclear.
          We have oil for a century and then some ...
        • The GDP of the United States is around 14.5 trillion dollars. Taking an average historical growth rate of 3.2% per year, the cumulative GDP of the US from 2011 to 2050 is 1144 trillion dollars.

          Therefore, your supposedly preposterous cost represents around 10% of GDP over the period.

          In any case, your numbers are an exaggeration even in 2011, and you'd have to be horribly pessimistic to assume the costs of wind turbines and solar energy aren't going to drop over that period. For one thing, the current commo

      • by Cyberax (705495)

        Spread out over 20 years, the economy is not really an issue. That works out at about 6 trillions a year for the whole world, that's about 10% of the global GDP.

        In reality, probably even less if one considers impacts of mass production and technological improvements.

      • by kyle5t (1479639)
        I am a solar installer. A typical 3 kW rooftop installation costs about $20k, nowhere near the 60k you came up with. Large utility-scale installations make money in the long run, selling power at market rates. This has been true for a couple years now (primarily because of new markets for renewable energy credits in many states). The challenge, as another commenter pointed out, is cash flow and financing.
    • Re:PR Puff Piece (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday February 18, 2011 @06:37AM (#35242210) Homepage

      Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic.

      Not economic, eh? I suppose you can make any economic argument up and buttress it with facts and graphs and sell it to somebody, but if fails the sanity test. Even China who has the closest thing to a command economy on the planet is hell bent on running up coal and nuclear for the short term. We've barely started to bring 300 MW concentrated solar plants on line, much less create 50,000 of them, hydro is pretty much tapped out in most places and is a risky bet when you factor in climate change (hard to move the stupid things if rainfall predictions are wrong). Tidal and mwave are beta technologies at best and damned expensive ones at that. In the event that the authors of the study have missed it, we're in the midst of a generation changing recession with most of the first world countries who would putatively bankroll this non economic problem having major problems making next month's payroll.

      And even if the supposition is correct - even if it's 'only social and political' - how the hell do you plan on solving the most intractable issues that the human race has managed to come up with - that of getting along with each other? Politics is the art of the possible, not pixie dust and ponies (that's Steve Job's department).

      Some people really need to go outside sometimes.

      • Re:PR Puff Piece (Score:4, Interesting)

        by a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) on Friday February 18, 2011 @07:42AM (#35242398) Homepage Journal

        Even China who has the closest thing to a command economy on the planet is hell bent on running up coal and nuclear for the short term.

        China is the second largest wind power producer in the world and are quickly climbing the ranks to become #1.

        China is actually very heavily investing in wind power and about half of world wide wind power added during the first half of 2010 was in China.

        http://www.wwindea.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=21&Itemid=43 [wwindea.org]

        Before the end of this year China will be the #1 wind power in the world surpassing USA.

        • Yes, China is investing heavily in wind power, but it is investing just as heavily (if not more so) in expanding its coal power infrastructure as well. China is not investing in wind power as a replacement for coal power, but as a supplement to it.
    • This is written by people who understand the difference between reliable base-load sources and less-predictable renewables like wind and solar. Their plan recognizes the need for energy storage to balance out the erratic sources - that's the "270 new 1300MW hydroelectric power plants", which you need for pumped storage. There's a social and political barrier for you - we have enough trouble in the US running new power lines, and this plan requires the construction of hundreds of new dams!?

      I also don't und

  • Thorium (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JoeThoughtful (1945502) on Friday February 18, 2011 @06:17AM (#35242122)
    Or we could start building Thorium reactors next year and move past all talk about a looming energy crisis.
  • Yes! Electricity the "fuel" of the future! Wait what??!
  • There are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources

    I didn't read any further than this. If there aren't any economic barriers, then why does it need any sort of public backing or support. If wind and solar actually were an economic alternative to things like coal, then power companies would be switching without any other sort of incentive, simply to save money.

    Now, one could certainly make the argument (though he doesn't) that fossil fuels produce negative externalities to society, and correcting for that clean energy is actually more economic in the long

    • by bunratty (545641)
      I think "no economic barriers" is different from "more profitable". There were no economic barriers to going to the moon, but it was not profitable. Because there was no profit in it, we wouldn't expect companies to do it without public backing.
    • We have quit a lot invested the current way of doing things so some prodding is justifies. But, if you look at new generation, renewables do pretty well. Wind has been playing tag with natural gas for several year and solar put in 16 GW of capacity in 2010 while nukes did less than 3. Both wind and solar will be getting cheaper still so eventual replacement is inevitable as the old stuff breaks. But inertia is expensive. The cost of using coal is much higher than what turns up on your electricity bill,
  • don't go camping with Daniel Plainview.
    .
    .
    .
    or hunting with Dick Cheney.
  • There are three major issues, two are more technical and one is political:
    The technical issues: transportation of goods ( by ship, airplane or trucks) and intensive farming. Both rely practically to 100% on oil-based technology and there is no strategy and no technology in sight how to change this, or change it quickly enough.

    The other, perhaps more important issue is political: the only way to have the solutions available when we need them is to start pumping money into them now, or even better, yesterday.

  • QUOTE: During this decade, the two 'fuels of the future' will be electricity and gasoline. Beyond that, we can't project."

    Saved me reading time.

  • Yeah whenever a scientist says X or Y are possible within 30-40 years, then most of the time it takes much much longer, for example Artificial Intelligence. But despite of that we could probably say 100% renewable energy is definately 100% possible in 4500, but the question is: since how long. These are always PR bullshit stories to raise investment. Because how do they know it's then on the marktet, or do the same scientists there also know how the market works? Very clever, because even the economists don
    • by bunratty (545641)
      There are technological barriers to things like AI and fusion. We simply don't know how to do them. On the other hand, we know exactly how to build solar energy plants and wind farms. There is no technological barrier to alternative energy, as the article points out.
  • It pisses me off to see government and/or private organizations saying that we can do this in 40 years. What a fucking cop out, its like saying, "Our children will fix this as soon as we pass control on to them and then we can live out our remaining years with the benifits." I for one think that no government office should be allowed to project more than 10 years, if it can't be done in ten years then you can't brag about it.
  • Well, nuclear is one, and fusion is another...even though we are being postponed on these 2 for reasons unknown by the gov., maybe they do not want little nuclear cells the size of a hand running your car engine, so that if you bought 20 cars, you would have enough for a small nuc bomb....and same for fusion, once the fusion has become available enough for reg. joe's to use and have, it wont be long before hackers would break it down to know how it works and tweak it, and therefor become self sustaining, as

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