An energy plan that depends 100% on renewable energy?

(This post is not related to investing)

Is it actually possible to generate 100% of the world's energy from renewable sources such as wind, water, and solar? We are not talking about some futuristic society but the present.

No doubt this is as utopian a premise as any.

Yet Mark Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineer, and Mark Delucchi, a research scientist, suggest that it can be done. In the November issue of Scientific American, they detail how the world can use wind, solar, and water to power 100% of our needs (note that this excludes nuclear; it would be easy if you include nuclear.)

You can access the article from the official Scientific American website (requires purchase.) I also Googled and found it freely available here. It's an interesting read. Thanks to Globe & Mail reader Alan Burke for bringing the article to my attention.

Key elements of the plan, as cited at Scientific American's website, are the following:

  • The authors’ plan calls for 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants, and numerous geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations worldwide.
  • The cost of generating and transmitting power would be less than the projected cost per kilowatt-hour for fossil-fuel and nuclear power.

Mind you, the suggested plan requires total dedication—think of the American space program or American military manufacturing during WW II—but I'm surprised it is even feasible. I am not too knowledgeable about alternative energy but had always felt it was not usable on a large scale (I'm not counting nuclear, which is quite doable.) So it's interesting to me that, as remote as it may seem, humans can actually get away with renewables. There are some pitfalls, such as potential shortage of rare materials, but it's not as out-of-reach as I had thought.

Although I'm not a believer in Peak Oil, Global Warming, or other mega-disaster low-probability scenarios, I still think about them occasionally. So, knowing that humans can get away with renewables in some extreme scenario—say we run out of oil in 50 years—is reassuring :)


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