A Jacobsonian 100% Wind Water and Sunlight gallop at UCLA

Tuesday evening I spent a couple hours online listening to a moderated debate hosted by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The debate was titled POWERING EARTH 2050: Is California’s 100% Renewable Strategy Globally Viable? The reason for my interest was three-fold: As anyone who reads my blog knows I try to follow the comings and goings of the topic of renewable energy and this was a presentation dedicated to the topic. The second reason was because two men I have come to respect via Twitter: (Mike Shellenberger and Ken Caldeira) were two of the featured speakers (it was Mike’s tweet that made me aware of the event). But truth be told, the main reason for tuning in was that it featured a man known well to this blog Stanford Professor Dr. Mark Z Jacobson.

Dr. Jacobson is the godfather of the 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight (100% WWS) series.  He is an advocate for moving our planet to a state where all energy is provided solely by the power of wind, water and sunlight (okay with some geothermal and tides). His work has fascinated me, to the extent that I have an entire section of my blog dedicated to it. Unfortunately, that section consists mostly of criticisms, because as I describe in my blog posts, while I find the concept of 100% WWS incredibly appealing, it appears to fail on any number of fronts. I have posts dedicated to its limitations when considering rare earth metal use, its irrational exclusion of nuclear energy as a low-carbon energy source, its expense (from a Canadian perspective) and the intellectual inconsistencies of the people pushing the plan. I used to follow Dr. Jacobson on Twitter but he has a habit of blocking those who ask him challenging questions, so I was really interested to see him discuss the topic in a public forum.

I have to admit, I was not disappointed by Dr. Jacobson as a speaker. As expected he speaks with an easy evangelical fervour and obviously believes everything he is saying. The problem is that, like many folks with an evangelical world-view, he doesn’t let little challenges get in the way of his bigger message.

I was particularly impressed by his opening statement. In the creationist science debate there is a presentation technique called the “Gish Gallop” it has been described as:

the debating technique of drowning an opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time. More often than not, these myriad arguments are full of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments — the only condition is that there be many of them, not that they be particularly compelling on their own. They may be escape hatches or “gotcha” arguments that are specifically designed to be brief, but take a long time to unravel.

This style can well be attributed to Dr. Jacobson at this event. His initial presentation was only 6-7 minutes long but it was jam-packed with things that would take a dozen blog posts to completely unravel [he reportedly spoke at almost 2.9 words a second]. Lacking the patience of Job, I will address a mere handful of the cornucopia of the Jacobsonisms from his presentation.

Dr. Jacobson comes online at about minute 7:35 of the attached YouTube video (POWERING EARTH 2050: Is California’s 100% Renewable Strategy Globally Viable?). Unfortunately there is no official transcript of the event (yet?) so I have paraphrased the applicable bits and included approximate time stamps [after writing this post I found a good transcription here] Dr. Jacobson starts his presentation at about 7:35 of the video and by 7:55 he has already said something interesting enough for a comment:

We have authored 15 peer reviewed papers…..that have been reviewed by over 35 peer reviewers.

Now this appears to be one of Dr. Jacobson’s go-to argument styles on Twitter. He repeatedly has pointed out that his work is peer reviewed and that none of the people criticizing his work have had their criticisms published in the peer-reviewed press. I go into detail on this gambit in a post titled On blogging and the irrelevance of academic peer review in multi-disciplinary fields.

As I point out in my blog post, a refereed paper is only peer-reviewed by a limited number of people and each reviewer only has so much expertise. So when you have a paper that covers a very broad topic, like discussing the strengths and limitations of a half-dozen different power generation technologies for implementation in 139 Countries; you can virtually guarantee that much of the paper will be outside of the area of expertise of the individual reviewers. As I point out in my blog post, once you leave a peer reviewer’s particular area of expertise they simply become a highly-credentialed copy editor. In a field like renewable energy policy, that is very broad in content/context, it is simply not possible to find reviewers who can do a reasonable job of comprehensively peer reviewing papers of this sort. This has been demonstrated nicely in the case of the 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All-Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World (called 100% WWS World hereafter) where  It took a Finn to point out that Finland, unlike the rest of Scandinavia, is an exceedingly flat country so the heavy reliance on pumped hydro in that country suggested in 100% WWS World was not topographically doable.

In his presentation, Dr. Jacobson appears to try to nullify that concern by pointing out that the 15 papers had been reviewed by 35 peer-reviewers. Now that sounds like a lot until you carefully unpack that statement; there were 15 papers after all. That is like saying we played 15 soccer games and had a total of 35 officials therefore each individual game must have been well-officiated. The reality is that any single paper had at most three reviewers and by his own numbers it appears that the stable of reviewers was small enough that some reviewers must have reviewed more than one paper or some papers were reviewed by fewer than 3 reviewers. This is not a sufficient cross-section of expertise to address the multi-faceted nature of the field under study as is demonstrated by many online critiques of this work.

His follow-up approach appear to be to point out that none of his critics have had those criticisms published in the peer-reviewed literature but there is a simple answer for that. As I discuss in my blog post there is no incentive to writing up a critique for peer-review when you can have the same information made available where it can be viewed and critiqued globally on the web. Only academics, who need to keep score for their C.V.s, would wish to get such a paper published. Dr. Jacobson’s discussion continues until minute 8:40 where he begins discussing end-use power demand in 100% WWS World:

End use power demand…is 12.5 Terawatts (TW). If we go to 2050 that goes up to about 19.5 TW. [He then discusses conversion efficiency associated with conversion to electricity] we reduce power demand, first 32% by the efficiency of electricity over combustion without even changing your habits…and then another 7% that we try to squeeze out due to end use energy efficiency improvements, which is very conservative compared to a business as usual case…. So we have about almost 12 terawatts to satisfy, in 2050, of end use power.

Now let’s be clear here, as described by the International Energy Agency:

Modern energy services are crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development; and yet globally over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity and 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities. More than 95% of these people are either in sub-Saharan African or developing Asia and 84% are in rural areas.

In India 44.7 % of the rural population has no access to electricity, that represents about 80.7 million households. All the energy efficiency in the world is not going to decrease these people’s energy demands since they aren’t using any electricity right now. Yet in the 100% WWS World paper they have projected energy use for residential purposes in India dropping from 241 GW in 2012 to 164 GW in 2030 before bouncing all the way up to 277 GW in 2050. The Indian government recently set a simple, but ambitious goal that every citizen will have reliable electricity by 2022. Unfortunately for the 100% WWS team, when these people are finally connected to the grid they will increase the demand, not reduce it in these regions. As a consequence, the numbers underlying the 2030 and 2050 assumptions of 100% WWS World are simply out to lunch. There is no way that the population of India will be using less energy in 2030 than they do today following the addition of 80.7 million households to the grid. Most interestingly, according to the 100% WWS World spreadsheets, in 2050 the scheme calculated that 388 million US residential users will use approximately the same amount of energy (276.46 GW) as the 277.05 assigned to the projected 1.7 billion Indians in 2050. How is that for Western exceptionalism? We are going to give ourselves 4+ times the per capita energy that we allocate to the Indians. I somehow doubt the Indians are going to go along happily with that approach.

By 9:40 he was really doing his thing

We can eliminate global warming as we know it…and get CO2 down to 350 ppm by 2100.

Dr. Jacobson has repeated this statement before and as a man who stresses the value of peer review it is interesting to note that, to the best of my knowledge, this statement has not appeared in any of his published work. It has appeared in the supplementary material associated with the 100% WWS World paper but the actual calculations and assumptions behind this incredibly important statement do not appear to be in the peer-reviewed literature. The original reference is to a textbook he authored but which I have no plans on purchasing.

By 9:56 he was really rolling:

We would create 22 million net jobs over lost worldwide by such conversions

Now this goes back to a complaint I have repeated about this program. It has not been fully costed out. As I point out at my blog, using Dr. Jacobson’s discounted rate for the wind component of the 100% WWS World in Canada would cost $273 billion. We haven’t even considered the necessary grid upgrades, all those solar panels and all the storage necessary to make 100% WWS World work. But don’t worry, this is doable as his acolytes continue to assert.

Going back to his direct statement, I can now understand how you can create so many millions of theoretical jobs, because they are using imaginary money. It is amazing how many jobs you can theoretically “create” when you don’t need to find the financing to pay for any of them.

By 10:50 of the video he was “reducing global conflict” (because the Middle East has only seen war since oil was discovered there, as long as you ignore all those religious wars since the times of the Hittites) and later he notes how his program will reduce poverty…presumably with more of that magic money he has lying around.

Now you can see how he does it, this blog post has almost surpassed 2000 words and I have not even run through his introductory comments. I would like to end it here, but I have one issue that really gets my goat about the 100% WWS series. Now I’m a bit old-fashioned in that when new research comes out I try to consider it in my subsequent work. This is not necessarily the case in the 100% WWS series. It is like a Jenga tower always pulling out parts of old papers to build the new ones.

In his discussions Dr. Jacobson repeatedly refers to the cost of wind power which he claims is much cheaper than nuclear. I was confused by this Tuesday night so I went searching to see where he got his numbers. It appears that he derived that number in his 2009 paper (Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security) using a single Danish reference from 1997 (Krohn, The energy Balance of Modern Wind Turbines). He appears to extrapolate the life-cycle energy costs for a 5 MW turbine from a “modern” 600 kW Danish wind turbine” [modern for 1997 I suppose?] and uses that to calculate a national number. The resulting emissions from the wind turbines are reported as 2.8–7.4 g CO2 per kWh. Now a lot of science has been done since 1997. As an example Turconi, Boldrin and Astrup (2013 Life cycle assessment (LCA) of electricity generation technologies: Overview, comparability and limitations) produced a meta-analysis of life cycle analyses for wind installations. They came up with a range of 3–28  kgCO2-eq/MWh. They also point out one particular study that is particularly apt in that it includes storage which is a feature of the 100% WWS series (35–41kgCO2-eq/MWh). They also make note of emission factors reported in previous review studies were in the range of 5–35 kgCO2-eq/MWh. Now we have a range derived in 2009 from a single report produced in 1997 or we can use a range that incorporates 22 of the best recent studies. Anyone care to guess which number gets used in discussions around 100% WWS?

Well I have officially run out of gas, but if you have not had enough I suggest you mosey on over to Rod Adam’s post: Mark Jacobson condenses 6 years of wind, water, solar research to 6.5 minute barrage at Atomic Insights. Rod looked at the same talk and had a whole different bunch of comments. I would also like to thank Rod for his partial transcript of the talk. Sadly I didn’t see his blog post until I had spent far too long trying to transcribe the work, but his transcription helped me figure out what Dr. Jacobson was saying at times. I am also looking forward to when PassiiviIdentiteetti takes a run at the talk, which I certainly hope he chooses to do.

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11 Responses to A Jacobsonian 100% Wind Water and Sunlight gallop at UCLA

  1. Engineer-Poet says:

    Out of curiosity, where did you pick up the term “Gish gallop”?


    • Blair says:

      As part of my thesis research back in the day I looked at how scientific information was used in decision-making and used the creationist/evolution debate as an initial vehicle to test some theories. I learned some very interesting things from that foray.


      • Engineer-Poet says:

        I’ve been throwing it around lately and it seems to be sticking to the Lovinsites and Jacobsonians.  I’m hoping it gets more traction.


    • Canman says:

      “Gish gallop” was apparently coined by Eugenie Scott, the founder of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).


  2. Chester Draws says:

    The Green crowd are such economic idiots that they consistently think that “creating jobs” is an economic benefit for their schemes.

    Now it is a benefit, in that more people have work. But it must also mean that the new systems have increased costs, because those people need to be paid (assuming that those jobs are ongoing). So the electricity must be more expensive.

    They want to have it both ways — their electricity will be cheap, and will also create jobs. But only one of these is possible. They live in a little dream world, where things cost less even if they cost more to create.


  3. Tom says:

    You really need to write an entire book on this.


  4. Gail Zawacki says:

    Thanks for this summary. The other problem with Jacobson’s plan (oddly enough since the reason he is an evangelical for clean energy is climate change) is that he doesn’t seem to have any awareness of how drastically and permanently the world is changing – ways that will make it impossible to use and maintain a lot of the “clean” energy he advocates. The storms are going to get more and more hellacious – so many of the turbines will be uninsurable and thus won’t be built in the first place. His original plan had east coast offshore wind only in the north because of hurricanes in the south and then, oops, Sandy happened. Not to mention rising seas that are inevitable. And many rivers are going to dry up from drought and melting glaciers, so there goes a lot of even the already existing hydropower. Dust from droughts is going to cover solar panels and there won’t be water to clean them.

    We’re in for a nasty future. Did you ever see Jacobson’s interview on Letterman? It’s hilarious. He’s so sincere, and Dave looks just incredulous. Check out the global dimming part at 6:40 in – and the very end, at 10:15, Mark tells us everything is going to be okay and Dave just laughs.


  5. kap55 says:

    1. In terms of raw cost, Jacobson is fond of citing Lazard’s LCOE (Levelized Cost Of Electricity), just one of dozens of available LCOE numbers available. Much better is the meta-analysis found on the OpenEI Transparent Cost Database (google it), which shows comparable LCOE for wind and nuclear. (And that’s without taking into account either OECD systems costs, OR the much longer plant lifetimes of nuclear plants. If you add in those, nuclear is significantly cheaper than wind.)

    It’s worth noting that Lazard is an investment house that specializes in selling stock in renewable energy companies (i.e., wind). In other words, they have skin in the game — and it shows. Lazard arrives at their numbers by starting with a very high discount rate (essentially an interest rate); this is an immediate handicap to those technologies that have high up-front costs, like nuclear. Of course wind has high up-front costs too, but Lazard then assigns a 55% capacity factor to wind, which is roughly double the Danish national average. In so doing Lazard cuts the cost of wind power in half, after doubling it in the first place with their high discount rate. The bottom line is that MZJ can claim that Lazard’s numbers are fine, because they match everyone else’s wind numbers, and therefore their nuclear numbers have to be good too. It’s a totally bogus misrepresentation.

    2. Another topic worth noting is MZJ’s cost of HVDC transmission, for which he uses only one source in his tables (the conference paper Bahrman 2006 — while ignoring Bahrman 2007 and Bahrman 2008). But examination of Bahrman 2006 (MZJ’s link is now dead: try http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?arnumber=4075711&filter%3DAND%28p_IS_Number%3A4075698%29 instead, or try the DOI on sci-hub if you’re not in a subscribing institution) shows no detailed costing data at all. Hmm. But the recent 100% RE paper by MacDonald helpfully supplies numbers from Bahrman 2007 and Bahrman 2008: $701 per MW-mile and $182856 per MW (fixed, for terminals). However, the most recently completed overland HVDC lines in North America, the West Alberta and East Alberta lines, are 1GW lines of 217 and 300 miles that came in with actual costs of $1.7 billion and $1.8 billion, respectively. That works out to $1205 per MW-mile plus $1,438,554 per MW — way above Bahrman’s figures, by factors of about 3 at the distances MZJ assumes.

    3. Meanwhile, maybe we could start a club for people that MZJ has blocked on twitter? This is clearly a guy that does not like to take flack, no matter how politely phrased.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robert says:

    Another first world centric discussion. No talk of geothermal power, no serious discussion of thorium reactors, no discussion of smart grids, no thoughts about how few years the solar panel and wind turbine tinker toys might last, nothing about how nimbys would never let new power lines be built. A lot of touchy-feely green religious fervor. Adequately powering the developing world is going to take far more power (perhaps 4x more ) than they suggest. And this should all be done in the context of the long now, thinking for the next 10,000 years, not the next fiscal quarter. Fortunately there is an abundance of cheap energy from a wide variety of sources throughout the world.


  7. Pingback: Vote for the 2016 Environmental Arsehat of the Year | ConservationBytes.com

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