News Nuggets: Stanford Star’s Super Simple Plan to Power the U.S. Entirely by Wind & Solar

Stanford’s “Cary Grant” Offers Super Simple Energy Plan

Mark Jacobson is no stranger to publicity. His ideas for powering the United States entirely by wind and solar have won the attention of former President Bill Clinton and an extended interview with David Letterman, a rare feat for someone whose last name isn’t “Bieber.”

Maybe it’s the Stanford professor’s dark, Cary Grant-esque good looks. Dreamy! Or maybe he’s actually onto something. This week Jacobson unveiled a plan for how each of the 50 states—yes, even you, Texas—could save gobs of money by weaning off fossil fuels.

The tools required involve a soup-to-nuts approach to clean energy; everything from rooftop photovoltaic to geothermal and wave power. On an interactive map published by The Solutions Project, an ego project presumably combining Jacobson’s climate ideas and Mark Ruffalo’s CGI-enhanced green power, Jacobson promotes a state-by-state plan for the exact mixture of clean technologies required to bring fossil fuel consumption to zero. A sunny state such as Florida could get 73 percent of its energy from the sun. Half of Alaska’s energy could come from onshore wind, allowing the state to sell the product flowing from its famous pipeline to other countries.

In grey Ohio, a quarter of the power could come from offshore wind turbines in Lake Erie. Jacobson’s report fails to mention a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem, however: The big ships required to build offshore wind turbines can’t fit through the St. Lawrence Seaway. So which of you investors wants to be the first to build a ship dedicated exclusively to the Great Lakes, for a wind market that does not yet exist?

On his website, Jacobson posts wonky papers on how to address grid intermittency, but sadly no plans for revolutionary battery technology. And how to get all those entrenched fossil fuel companies to change their ways? Letterman has a solution: Encourage Shell to turn its gas stations into Yankee Candle stores.

Report: Chinese Dictatorship Can Beat U.S. on Green

Not to be outdone by America’s politically and economically improbable plans to go green, China could derive 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050 if its unsmiling dictators decide to follow a plan unveiled this week by the Energy Transition Research Institute. The institute used computers (computers!) to demonstrate that by combining efficiency efforts, renewable energy and low-carbon fossil fuels, China could cut its future carbon emissions by 90 percent from current estimates.

“This research allows Chinese leaders to put the questions of technical feasibility aside and economic viability aside. …with strong political will, China can prosper while eliminating coal from its power mix within the next 30 years.”

Of course the last time Chinese leaders put questions of technical and economic viability aside, things didn’t work out so well.

Sure, Ivanpah’s Huge. But So Is My Roof.

Now that the massive Ivanpah solar plant is online, the United States has successfully doubled the amount of solar energy it produces in the last five years. According to the Department of Energy, Ivanpah’s 173,500 mirrors and three solar power towers played a major role in clearing the hurdle.

“In many ways, this project is a symbol of the exciting progress we are seeing across the industry,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said at a press conference at the new plant. “Ivanpah is the largest solar thermal energy facility in the world with 392 MW of capacity — meaning it can produce enough renewable electricity to power nearly 100,000 homes.”

Traditional solar towers required massive amounts of water to produce steam, which proved to be major a financial and logistical challenge for projects that happen best in deserts. Perhaps Ivanpah’s greatest triumph is its air-cooled condensers, which Munoz said allows it to use only as much water as two holes at a nearby golf course. The plant’s successful debut has sparked renewed interest in bringing such low-water systems to other types of power plants, including nuclear, especially as the West continues to get hammered by a 15-year drought.

Ivanpah is certifiably cool, and it’s a lot of power. But such utility-scale solar projects may not become the dominant way for most Americans to interact with solar power. The number of jobs in the solar industry grew 20 percent in 2013, according to a report by The Solar Foundation, and the vast majority of those new workers were added by companies that install solar panels in distributed sites. And even with Ivanpah, big utility-scale installations aren’t keeping up with even one company in the fast-expanding industry of distributed solar: Solar City plans to deploy between 475 and 525 MW worth of solar panels in 2014 alone.

Tags: Policy , Solar

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