Jacobson and Delucchi energy dreams are irresponsible fairy tales

Jacobson and Delucchi energy dreams are irresponsible fairy tales by Alice Friedemann

Jacobson & Delucchi are like religious preachers who tell people what they want to hear.  Energyskeptic has hundreds of articles from peer-reviewed sources that explain why their ideas are absolutely crazy.  Here are just a few of the problems off the top of my head, other critiques follow:

  • They promote solutions that are far from commercial, and are unlikely to ever be commercial (hydrogen, wave and tidal power, flywheels,  electric vehicle-to-grid)
  • They are totally unaware of energy returned on energy invested concepts that have been around for decades and propose solutions with too low  an EROI to sustain society (i.e. solar PV)
  • Do not address the many issues of wind power
  • Don’t take into account the fossil fuel energy to replace billions of existing diesel engines that last up to 40 or more years that power trucks, trains, ships, and other equipment, or explain how we could possibly electrify them
  • Quantify how much fossil fuel energy it will take to make the alternative energy contraptions  which typically last only half as long as fossil plants — about 20 years for onshore wind and solar, 15 years for offshore wind due to corrosion, battering by waves, etc.
  • Don’t understand how powerful oil is and why it’s so hard to replace
  • Is unaware of  how the electric grid works (not his field) and the need to balance intermittent energy with generation that can ramp up and down quickly to balance intermittent, unpredictable, and unreliable wind, solar, and wave power (the only renewable that can do that is biomass which he rejects for it’s greenhouse gas contributions, though he ought to be rejecting biomass for the tremendous ecological harm and negative EROEI).
  • Above all, energy storage is needed, mainly utility-scale batteries for which there isn’t enough material or energy to construct because there aren’t enough (pumped) hydro storage or compressed air energy storage locations. Geothermal is baseload and can’t ramp up and down to balance wind and solar.  The idea of hydrogen storage is so preposterous that it ought to make any reasonable person question his other “solutions” as well.

Vaclav Smil in 2010 “Energy Myths and Realities”:

Jacobson and Delucchi propose to convert all of the world’s energy supply to sustainable energy in just two decades by following the WWs (wind, water, and sunlight) path. Given the fact that most of the contemplated capacity in large hydrostations is already in place, their grandiose plan rests on installing 3.8 million large (each with 5 MW capacity) wind turbines and 89,000 photovoltaic and concentrated solar power plants (averaging 300 MW). They estimate the cost of all this (not including new transmission lines) as about $100 trillion dollars.

This lightning-fast extravaganza would require abandoning (except for hydro dams and HV lines) all of the world’s existing energy infrastructure and erecting a new one by 2030. The average annual cost of this enterprise-taking into account its authors’ estimate and adding the cost of extensive new transmission grids, lost capital value of the suddenly abandoned fossil-energy industries, and forgone revenue from their terminated operations—would be easily equal to the total value of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) or close to a quarter of global GDP.

My verdict concerning this project’s feasibility has been shared by many other life-long students of energy and could not be expressed better than by quitting just two of many scathing comments submitted to the editors of Scientific American, in which the Jacobson and Delucchi proposal appeared.

Michael Briggs wrote: “as a physicist focused on energy research, I find this paper so absurdly poorly done that it is borderline irresponsible. There are so many mistakes, it would take hours of typing to point out all of the problems. the fact that Scientific American publishes something so poorly done does not speak well of the journal.

Seth Dayal added “This paper is an irresponsible piece of nonsense that would generally be found for order in the back pages of some pulp fiction magazine. The sad part is the editors for some reason chose to not only publish the claptrap but to endorse it”.

It is one thing when a former politician endorses an unrealistic project to boost his media presence or when an astute businessman pushes a scheme that would eventually benefit his investments—but it is an entirely different matter when one of the world’s oldest science magazines lends its pages to fairy tales that any seasoned engineer and any responsible student of energy systems find grotesquely immature.

Roman playwright Terence wrote 2100 years ago “Men believe what they want to”. It may be true, but it is hardly the best foundation for rational energy or any other policies.

More critiques:

Critique of the 100 Percent Renewable Energy for New York Plan by Edward Dodge

A Critique of Jacobson and Delucchi’s Proposals for a World Renewable Energy Supply by Ted Trainer

Not enough wind, solar, geothermal to replace fossil and nuclear power in the 11 western states of the WECC.   California, Oregon, Utah, and Washington have already developed most (if not all) of their prime-quality in-state resources by Alice Friedemann

U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS-Based Analysis by Anthony Lopez, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

My comment: this document shows that the solutions for New York state in Jacobson’s 2013 paper “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s  all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water ,and sunlight” in Energy Policy is physically impossible because New York does not have enough Solar PV, Solar CSP, geothermal, hydropower, or wind power/capacity/potential. Nor do any of the other 36 states in the Eastern Interconnection

Comments on Jacobson et al.’s proposal for a wind, water, and solar energy future for New York State by Nathaniel Gilbraith et al.  

A Reality Check on a Plan for a Swift Post-Fossil Path for New York By Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times


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3 Responses to Jacobson and Delucchi energy dreams are irresponsible fairy tales

  1. Gail Zawacki says:

    Thanks for all those links, Alice. Last time I checked, Jacobsen was proposing massive off-shore wind farms on the East Coast, but only from around VA north, because the hurricane risk further south was too great manufacturers could not obtain any insurance companies. That was before Sandy.

  2. Phase Linear says:

    Your comment that Jacobson is ‘telling people what they want to hear’ is spot on. I foresee there will be much more of this kind of talk because it is a symptom of societies that have overshot their resource base. History shows this has happened to other empires and there is nothing special about us except perhaps that we are extremely drunk on high technology and convinced that non technological problems like resource depletion have a technological solution. Thus Jacobson’s ideas are reflective of our cultural bias that we can skirt the laws of physics and continue to function as waste based societies by the application of different technologies. But the costs and the physics will never allow expensive low density energy to replace the cheap high density energy required to maintain our current level of complexity. Eventually the discussion will be about how to manage doing with less, less of everything.

  3. Mark says:

    Thanks for the updated critique of Jacobson’s plan.

    E-3 “Technology commercialization risks by scenario” slide 71 notes “high” Technology risk for most of the alternatives to FF in the “California Pathways- GHG Scenario Results.” https://ethree.com/documents/E3_PATHWAYS_GHG_Scenarios_Updated_April2015.pdf

    At least the likelihood of success technologically speaking in the plan were noted as “high risk”. Unfortunately, the media hasn’t done a good job covering the details of what this means.