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100% Renewable Energy for 139 Nations Detailed in Stanford Report

Heat storage site in Denmark.

Mark Z. Jacobson, the famed professor at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences, and 26 of his colleagues have compiled a report that shows exactly how 139 nations could transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050 without throwing millions of people out of work. In fact, they contend that the changeover would actually spur job growth while dramatically reducing carbon emissions, writes Steve Hanley. Article courtesy of

The new report is an outgrowth of a similar project from 2015 that laid out the steps all 50 states in the US would need to take in order to transition to 100% renewable energy. Why 139 countries? Because that group is responsible for 99% of all global carbon emissions. The report was published August 23 by Joule, an online resource that focuses on news about renewable energy. 

Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there’s some reasonable science that can show it’s possible and that’s what we’re trying to do

Changing conventional wisdom is hard, but it can be done. People laughed at the Wright Brothers and their silly idea that we could fly from place to place. Today, there are more than 100,000 commercial airline flights a day worldwide. Television? Forget it. Smartphones with more computing power than an Apollo mission? Will never happen.

Change happens very slowly, but when it gets started, it builds momentum with amazing speed.

Jacobson’s group developed roadmaps that assess the renewable energy resources available to each country; the number of wind, water, and solar energy generators needed to get to 80% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050; how much land and how many rooftops these power sources would require; and how the proposals for each country would reduce energy demand and cost when compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

Eliminating the use of oil and gas will cut about 13% from the world’s energy budget because mining, transporting, and refining those fuels are all energy-intensive activities

“Both individuals and governments can lead this change. Policymakers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there’s some reasonable science that can show it’s possible and that’s what we’re trying to do,” says Jacobson, who is also a member of the board for the Solutions Project, a US-based nonprofit that works to educate the public and policymakers about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. “There are other scenarios. We’re not saying there’s only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”

By the way, due to the progressive and influential work Jacobson has been leading, he is in one camp with Elon Musk — he’s getting trolled by anti-renewable forces on the interwebs and in the flesh. Also see these two articles:

The analytical framework

The researchers examined several aspects of each country’s economy, including its electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industrial, and agriculture/forestry/fishing sectors. Their analysis revealed that those countries with lots of available land will find the transition to renewable energy the easiest. Countries like Singapore, which has little open land and is surrounded by oceans, may need to look to offshore wind energy to meet its goals.

Less international squabbling over access to fossil fuels will definitely be a plus for all concerned

Moving away from fossil fuels will bring with it ancillary benefits. For example, eliminating the use of oil and gas will cut about 13% from the world’s energy budget because mining, transporting, and refining those fuels are all energy-intensive activities. The greater efficiency of electric motors versus internal combustion engines could reduce global energy demand by another 23%.

Some benefits are hard to quantify, but less international squabbling over access to fossil fuels will definitely be a plus for all concerned. The authors also suggest that making the transition from fossils fuels to renewables will result in a net gain of 24 million employment opportunities worldwide.

“Aside from eliminating emissions and avoiding 1.5º C global warming and beginning the process of scrubbing carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, transitioning eliminates 4 to 7 million air pollution deaths each year and creates over 24 million long-term, full time jobs by these plans,” Jacobson says. “What’s different between this study and other studies that have proposed solutions is that we’re not just trying to examine the climate benefits of reducing carbon but also the air pollution benefits, jobs benefits, and cost benefits.”

Responding to critics

Critics of Jacobson’s work have pointed out that his recommendations ignore the potential of nuclear power, as well as so-called clean coal and biofuels. Jacobson responds that nuclear plants take 15 to 20 years to design and build and bring with them “robust evidence” of a risk  of weapons proliferation risk, meltdown risk, and waste management risks, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Clean coal has been condemned recently as a myth, and the production of biofuels creates 50 times as much carbon pollution as renewables, according to the report.

Jacobson and his colleagues highlight the inherent efficiency advantage of electric motors compared to internal combustion engines as the foundation of their recommendations. By their calculations, ICEs are less than 7% efficient by the time the costs of finding and extracting fossil fuels, transporting them, distributing them, and burning them are totaled and compared to the total amount of work produced.

They go on to advocate for underground heat storage for homes and businesses, pointing to Denmark, where such technology is common. They also presume that electric airplanes will become commonplace in the future as more and more companies invest in that technology.

Cuanto Cuesta? 

So how much is all this going to cost? Trillions. But Jacobson and his colleagues say keeping the existing fossil-based economy will cost 4 times as much, particularly when the economic value of better health and longer lifetimes is factored in. Over time, those benefits will more than equal the initial investment needed to go 100% renewable. In the final analysis, how do you put a price on preserving a world that is fit for human habitation?

An actual plan as opposed to political rhetoric or dogma

In a preview of the report, Mark Dyson of the Rocky Mountain Institute writes, “This paper helps push forward a conversation within and between the scientific, policy, and business communities about how to envision and plan for a decarbonized economy. The scientific community’s growing body of work on global low carbon energy transition pathways provides robust evidence that such a transition can be accomplished, and a growing understanding of the specific levers that need to be pulled to do so. Jacobson et al.’s present study provides sharper focus on one scenario, and refines a set of priorities for near-term action to enable it.”

In other words, an actual plan as opposed to political rhetoric or dogma. Combined with the suggestions made by the authors of the new book Drawdown, the Jacobson report marks the end of hand wringing and the beginning of actual strategies to address the most serious existential threat humanity has faced since The Flood.

Editors Note

This article was first published by and is republished here with permission. 

Steve Hanley writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter. His website:

Original Post

Content Discussion

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on August 30, 2017

Steve, that Jacobson has doubled down now with his nonsense is a good sign: that an anti-nuclear shill at Stanford’s fossil fuel-funded Precourt Insitute has been called out for what he is, and people are paying attention.

The timing is propitious: utility PG&E is seeking permission to abandon perfectly-functional Diablo Canyon Power Plant, replace it with natural gas, and bill ratepayers for construction costs. A decision is expected any day.

No, we don’t have 600 Hoover Dams to back up his zany hypothesis from 2015 (but of course, that was never the point). Why are we wasting time on his latest flights of fancy?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on August 30, 2017

“Green” Denmark still relies on coal for heating and electric power and its electricity costs so much that ICEVs are cheaper to operate than electrics, but Jacobson is sure he has a 100% WWS system all figured out for them.

This is a joke.  Unfortunately, very few people know that it is one.

I’d post this on the original article at Cleantechnia, but Bob Wallace deleted my first and only comment there and banned me permanently.  He doesn’t want anyone popping the bubbles of delusion he blows—or is that “the bubbles he’s paid to blow”?

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on August 30, 2017

All sorts of alternative facts can be used if the aim is to justify the anti-nuclear.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on August 31, 2017

Okay, but of the 139 countries, how many do you want to see with ready access to substances that can build nuclear weapons and/or dirty bombs?

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on August 31, 2017

A few years ago I wrote an article debunking Jacobson’s nonsense.
What surprises me, there are not more energy systems analysts taking his reports apart.
His capital costs are grossly underestimated to be attractive to 100% RE believers.
His schedule is compressed to 2030 and 2050 also to be attractive to those believers.

The world presently spends about $280 billion on renewable energy systems and world CO2 is still increasing.

Obviously that spending should be doubled to at least flat line the CO2, and tripled to get it to decrease, i.e., about $1 TRILLION/y, and quintupled to meet COP-21 pledges by 2030, and even greater multiples thereafter, because IPCC/UNEP want world CO2, ALL SOURCES, not just CO2, energy related, to be ZERO by 2080 to achieve 1.5 C above pre-industrial by 2100, which would require some serious population reduction and/or sequestering of CO2.

This very clearly is not going to happen with the US leaving COP-21, and the EU watering down RE and EE goals, and China, India, Japan, etc., building about 300,000 MW of ADDITIONAL coal plants, and Germany, the paragon of RE holiness, not meeting its Energiewende CO2 goals for 2020 and 2030.

All is detailed in these articles.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on August 31, 2017

Assume that the international controls are designed to prevent such things.

The 139 countries get e.g. TRISO fuel from a short list of suppliers (Russia, China, France, UK, Australia, USA) whose contract says they take it back after it’s exhausted.  Not only is it extremely difficult to turn spent TRISO fuel into anything seriously dangerous, none but the supplying countries would have any significant amount of it and all but Australia are already nuclear weapons states.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on August 31, 2017

Hops, here seconding EP’s comments, and some other thoughts.

Making nuclear weapons from nuclear fuel would be a tech-intensive and expensive process. There’s no evidence a country has tried to do it that way, nor that access to nuclear fuel has enabled construction of a weapon.

Though a nuclear fuel “dirty bomb” would be a dud (you can safely hold enriched uranium in your hand), one made from spent fuel would be capable of spreading materials dangerous in concentrated form over a wide area. Because their dissemination would raise exposure risk only slightly, more dangerous would be ensuing panic (Fukushima, case in point).

With the benefits of nuclear energy comes responsibility. Though the dangers of radiation exposure have been well understood for decades, responsible storage and guardianship of nuclear waste become critical issues if we expect to replace coal generation in the developing world.

Two key objectives will help to do it safely:

1) Expansion of IAEA’s funding for tracking nuclear fuel, and increased enforcement of international mandates for storing spent fuel.
2) An enforceable UN approval process limiting access to stable regimes capable of generating nuclear electricity responsibly. Combined with IMF funding for HVDC electricity transmission to neighboring countries.

Of course, there are no guarantees. We can expect accidents, and even possibly sabotage. But exposure to radioactivity is part of everyday life, and unless we’re exposed to materials in concentrated form it’s just not that dangerous (at this moment, my Geiger counter tells me I’m getting .18 µSv/hour).

Not widely known: after Chernobyl Unit #4 exploded in 1987, Units #1-3 remained open for eight years afterward. Employees showed up at the plant and worked their shifts as before, without evidence of any ill effects from slightly-elevated levels of radiation at ground zero in the plant’s “exclusion zone”.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on August 31, 2017

Steve, apparently “famed” Stanford Professor Mark Z. Jacobson was unable to get his new report published in a reputable journal (Nature, f’rinstance), and has instead settled on a paper-free web portal – one which appears to have come into existence for the sole purpose of disseminating it.

That’s one way to get your work published.

Another: submit it to outlets with a bias favoring your conclusions. “Joule”, which supposedly will publish its first edition tomorrow, admits to being a “home for…insightful research…addressing…the need for more sustainable energy.” Kind of limits your options to variations on the “renewable” crap which has proven a dismal failure for half a century. Doesn’t it?

One aspect of the 186-page monstrosity which deserves credit is its authors’ prodigiouus talent for generating variables. To simulate respectability, Jacobson et al resort to a dizzying Gish Gallop* of summations and equations which purport to evaluate variables, among hundreds of others, like

“The overhang multiplier covered parking-area roofs in country C in year TY”.


*”…the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument”.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on August 31, 2017

So, when you’re commenting on TEC, we can imagine you with a Geiger Counter at side?