We Could Power All 50 States With Wind, Solar and Hydro

It’s a MYTH that We Need Fossil Fuel Or Nuclear

The big oil, gas, coal and nuclear companies claim that we need those energy sources in order to power America.

Good news: it’s a myth.

Mark Diesendorf – Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW at the University of New South Wales – notes:

The deniers and scoffers repeatedly utter the simplistic myth that renewable energy is intermittent and therefore cannot generate base-load (that is, 24-hour) power.

Detailed computer simulations, backed up with actual experience with wind power overseas, show that the scoffers are wrong. Several countries, including Australia with its huge renewable energy resources, could make the necessary transition to an electricity generation system comprising 100 per cent renewable energy over a few decades.


Feasibility has been established by computer simulations of electricity generation systems by several research groups around the world, including my own …

Diesendorf gave an update earlier this month:

Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and I have performed thousands of computer simulations of 100% renewable electricity in the National Electricity Market(NEM), using actual hourly data on electricity demand, wind and solar power for 2010.

Our latest research, available here and reported here, finds that generating systems comprising a mix of different commercially available renewable energy technologies, located on geographically dispersed sites, do not need base load power stations to achieve the same reliability as fossil-fuelled systems.

The old myth was based on the incorrect assumption that base load demand can only be supplied by base load power stations; for example, coal in Australia and nuclear in France. However, the mix of renewable energy technologies in our computer model, which has no base load power stations, easily supplies base load demand.

Similarly, Dr. Mark Jacobson – the head of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program, who has written numerous books and hundreds of scientific papers on climate and energy, and testified before Congress numerous times on those issues – has run a series of computer simulations based on actual historical energy usage data.

Jacobson found that the U.S. can meet all of its energy needs with a mix of wind, solar and hydropower

The difference between a failed alternative energy pipe dream and a viable alternative energy strategy is in having the right mix … and that takes sophisticated computer simulations using historical data. Jacobson’s study started several years ago by matching California’s historical power demand with available wind, solar and other renewable energy sources:

Jacobson has now developed specific plans for each of the 50 states on how to do it. Click on a state to see the specific energy mix which Dr. Jacobson’s team has found would provide 100% sustainable energy.

Watch this must-see 25-minute talk by Jacobson:

Jacobson also shows that the wind-water-sun combination would actually reduce electrical consumption (because it is more efficient than fossil fuels or nuclear):

And he shows that the wind-water-solar combination is superior to nuclear, “clean” coal, natural gas and biofuels. As one example, Jacobson notes that it takes at least 11 years to permit and build a nuclear plant, whereas it takes less than half that time to fire up a wind or solar farm. Between the application for a nuclear plant and flipping the switch, power is provided by conventional energy sources … currently 55-65% coal. Nuclear also puts out much more pollution (including much more CO2) than windpower, and 1.5% of all the nuclear plants built have melted down. More information here, here and here.

A banker for one of the world’s biggest banks also notes that switching to alternative energy provides certainty in energy pricing … and is usually a less expensive source of energy when long-term costs are factored in.

So why haven’t we switched? As David Letterman noted when interviewing Jacobson, the main hurdle to switching from fossil fuels and nuclear is simply that the big fossil fuel and nuclear companies would lose a lot of money, so they’re fighting tooth and nail to keep the status quo.

Read our recent interview with Dr. Jacobson on a related topic.

And note that decentralizing power supplies is arguably key to protecting against terrorism, fascism and destruction of our health, environment and economy.

This entry was posted in Business / Economics, Energy / Environment, Politics / World News, Science / Technology. Bookmark the permalink.
  • mmckinl

    “could make the necessary transition to an electricity generation system comprising 100 per cent renewable energy over a few decades.”

    We don’t have a few decades … And the resources to build this new energy system will not be available as investment capital disappears.

    And the wind-water-solar combination will not efficiently translate into transportation energy. Oil is just too energy concentrated to replace. Think food production and most forms of transportation.

    The infrastructure and investment in diesel and petrol modes of transport is in the tens of trillions. There isn’t the time or money to convert enough transportation to avoid financial Armageddon.

    • mmckinl

      The energy trap

      “The construction of that shiny new infrastructure requires not just money, but…energy. And that’s the very commodity in short supply. Will we really be willing to sacrifice additionalenergy in the short term—effectively steepening the decline—for a long-term energy plan? It’s a trap!”


  • Voice of Reason

    @mmckini – in the first place it is “Peak CHEAP
    Oil” not “Peak Oil”. Who knows how much of the stuff is left if we are willing to poison our water supplies and oceans? But as for the money, the “investment capital”, you must not have been paying attention to the economic news these last 6 years. There are hundreds of trillions of dollars sloshing around the world’s casinos – I mean financial markets. And then there is also the Fed and the world’s other central banks who can print trillions more to save the world’s richest gamblers from their bad bets.

    But all of that is just money. There may indeed be some real shortages of the materials needed for the construction of a renewable energy infrastructure that need to be managed. But my guess is those shortages won’t interfere with the manufacture of people’s color TVs.

    You may have something with the “food production” argument. It is entirely possible that “the last hours of ancient sunlight” (oil) are what is keep half or more of the world’s 8 billion people alive. But if that is true and we are a nation that really does value human life as we profess to (while we bomb it into oblivion in nations that do not do what they are told), shouldn’t we be willing to do what is necessary to make that life possible?

    But you have no argument with that “most forms of transportation” stuff. Every once in a while even an evil corporation like General Motors does something right. Yes, I’m talking about the Volt. Electric vehicle zealots will tell you it isn’t really necessary to pack that ‘range extender’ (AKA gas-powered
    generator) around all the time. And they may be right. But for most people ‘range extended’ EVs are ‘good enough’. They cost more up front, it is true. But it is like the difference between buying and renting. Just consider that difference an investment (and maybe pass some laws to attract the world’s hot trillions to it).

    As for rail, my understanding is that most of the rest of the world has already gone electric. So save that “ancient sunlight” for flying vacations to visit grandma that would be too time-intensive – or too far between outlets if you decide to go pure EV.

    • mmckinl

      As peak oil bites there will be less economic activity and ultimately less capital to invest. Money is a proxy for oil. Less oil, less money in real terms. That money you say is sloshing around is looking for ROI and at current prices big oil is selling assets not developing more fields.

      Private oil companies are now in decline as far as oil production. It is the state owned oil companies that have kept production level but even that is beginning to change. Actual crude oil production has been basically flat for six years.

      As far as transportation electric vehicles and electric rail supply less than 5% of the worlds transportation. The percentage of electric motors for ships, farming, standard rail, construction and mining is infinitesimal. A diesel electric train runs on … diesel …

      Shipping, mining and farming are not suitable for electric nor will they be anytime soon. Electric motors with the batteries are low on torque, heavy and have short run times. I suggest you rethink how electric motors actually perform.

      Electric vehicles with batteries also cost more per mile when considering battery life of ten years and batteries costing as much as 25% of the vehicle price. They have problems with both hot and cold weather …. serious range reductions …

      • mmckinl
      • voice of reason

        I’ll try to find some sources for the following so you don’t have to take my word for the following:
        “Money is a proxy for oil.” – Money is DEBT. For almost all of the world’s money that is true literally. it is a proxy for all real wealth, not just oil. But you make a serious mistake if you confuse money with real wealth – or assign to it a divine right of ROI.

        Electric motors have MORE torque than gas engines – not less. Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t those diesel electric trains burn diesel to generate ELECTRICITY? And don’t Europe’s trains just get that electricity from a third rail or some direct source?

        • mmckinl

          “Money is a proxy for oil.” – Money is DEBT.

          And that debt must be repaid plus interest and the only way to do that is avail the current economy to repay principal and interest. Money is a encumbrance on future energy. Should those promises of debt become largely worthless then the money becomes worthless. If the energy that moves the economy, mostly oil, becomes too costly the profit margins become losses and the entire business model collapses.

          • Voice of Reason

            “Money is a encumbrance on future energy” – That may be what money SHOULD be. But it isn’t what ‘money’ is today. Minsky said it best “Any unit (anybody) can create money. The problem is getting it accepted.” Getting it accepted doesn’t require an encumbrance on anything except perhaps the gullibility of a ‘greater fool’ or the peoples’ government (sic). Once ‘money’ becomes legal tender or is backed by the “Full Faith and Credit” of the peoples’ government (sic), it doesn’t require an “encumbrance on future energy” – at least conceptually. (In practice, it may require an encumbrance on the oil beneath the ground in other countries.)

          • mmckinl

            Semantics … any money in circulation is an encumbrance on future energy whether it be an individual or a country … That money losses value or becomes worthless upon nonpayment or lack of trust.

        • mmckinl

          It is passenger trains that use electricity … Freight is transported by diesel electric and even oil …

          • mmckinl

            @ voice of reason ~ ” Are you making this stuff up as you go?” … ” There is no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels. ”

            Your error my friend.

            The fact that the diesel electric train uses electric engines doesn’t change the fact that diesel oil, not the “grid”, is the energy source.

  • Bjorn Thompson

    Wanna buy a bridge?

    • AssHat900

      Sure I could always use a second one.

  • http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/ Dredd Blog

    Great post. Now you will be targeted by Oil-Qaeda like the rest of us who want humanity to thrive on a healthy planet in a healthy civilization.

  • tazman

    I notice that in his graphs included in this article between 10-14% of power generated each hour is by something called “NG Reserve” which I assume means natural gas reserves… funny how that particular item is shaded a neutral white an is the only item in the key that is abbreviated…. also, I think, based on my decade of living in California, it is disingenuous for him to claim from application to power generation only takes, on average, 5 years…that may be true for Iowa, Indiana, etc., but it certainly is not true in California… any power generation project will face dozens of environmental group lawsuits, regardless of whether it is “clean and renewable,” see especially this project mired in ‘controversy’ that just now, in 2014 actually came online: http://blog.gulflive.com/mississippi-press-news/2014/02/worlds_largest_solar_power_pla.html. That is the reality of “clean energy” in California..

    Also, Hydroelectric is a fairly large component of his graphs for summer months… but “the year 1968, though, saw the last major dam building projects for the Bureau passed by Congress.
    This was done with the Colorado River Basin Projects Act. Since that time, the Bureau has built fewer
    than 20 dams, and hydroelectric capacity has leveled off,” and “at one time,
    hydroelectric power accounted for almost 40% of America’s electrical consumption. Today, it is closer to 7%,” (http://esa21.kennesaw.edu/activities/hydroelectric/hydroactivity.pdf).

    The problem isn’t just the vested interests of coal and oil producers, it is also the serious case of NIMBY and environmental groups lobbying against the very technologies that could help the environment.

    • mmckinl

      NIMBY is certainly a cause for lack of energy development. However just as much energy development has been lost to corporate shenanigans as to local development of wind and solar.

      Corporations are fighting tooth and nail to stop individual rights as far as solar and wind. Corporations don’t want the competition to their monopolies.

      Laws and regulatory decisions discriminate against individuals as to rights and access to the grid. Solar panel installation, wind turbine installations are denied the ability to sell their power back.

      The bottom line is corporations and the state want huge corporate projects that can be controlled by the powers that be … against direct individual access to self generated power.

  • Todd Millions

    Good overveiw-you might be interested in reading the intro to the1975 edition of -Earth Energy and Everyone, M Gabel ed.Your conclusion was anticipated vis continuous output.Of course with load shifting and defferial with efficency improvements-we could have kicked the-Oil Arms and Atom mafia some decades ago.

  • WolfgangDS

    ….why don’t the big energy companies just start performing the switch themselves? Keep their current practice at level, of course, but also begin enterprises into these renewable fields. Once at a certain point, they can begin phasing out their previous business. Slowly, of course. It’d be good if they could train their employees to transfer into the new field easily, or at least give them time to find another job.

  • Undecider

    However, geo-engineering will make the idea of using nature moot. How can you plan on the sun or wind when someone is deliberately screwing up the weather patterns?