Stanford Study: Lower Costs by Switching to Renewables

June 29, 2022

We’ve known this for a long time. Above, University of California researchers on the pathway to 90 percent clean energy.
Above, comparing the clean energy transition to JFK’s “Moonshot”, I interviewed Stanford lecturer and energy visionary Tony Seba.

Elsewhere on this page, I’ve interviewed many researchers in recent years on the clean, and cheap, path forward.

Mark Z Jacobson in The Hill:

The world is experiencing unprecedented fuel price increases, energy blackmail between countries, up to 7 million air pollution deaths per year worldwide and one climate-related disaster after another. Critics contend that a switch to renewable energy to solve these problems will create unstable electricity grids and drive prices up further. However, a new study from my research group at Stanford University concludes that these problems can be solved in each of the 145 countries we examined — without blackouts and at low cost using almost all existing technologies.

The study concludes that we do not need miracle technologies to solve these problems. By electrifying all energy sectors; producing electricity from clean, renewable sources; creating heat, cold, and hydrogen from such electricity; storing electricity, heat, cold and the hydrogen; expanding transmission; and shifting the time of some electricity use, we can create safe, cheap and reliable energy everywhere.

The biggest reason for the cost reduction is that a clean, renewable energy system uses much less energy than does a combustion-based energy system. In fact, worldwide the energy that people actually use goes down by over 56 percent with an all-electric system powered by clean, renewable sources. The reduction is for five reasons: the efficiency of electric vehicles over combustion vehicles, the efficiency of electric heat pumps for air and water heating over combustion heaters, the efficiency of electrified industry, eliminating energy needed to obtain fossil fuels, as well as some efficiency improvements beyond what is expected.

On top of that, a new system also reduces the cost per unit energy by another 12 percent on average, resulting in a 63 percent lower annual energy cost worldwide. Adding onto that health and climate cost savings gives a 92 percent reduction in social costs, which are energy plus health plus climate costs, relative to the current system.

The energy-producing technologies considered include only onshore and offshore wind electricity, solar photovoltaics for electricity on rooftops and in power plants, concentrated solar power, solar heat, geothermal electricity and heat, hydroelectricity, as well as small amounts of tidal and wave electricity. The most important electricity storage technology considered was batteries, although pumped hydroelectric storage, existing hydroelectric dam storage and concentrated solar power electricity storage were also treated. We found that no batteries with more than four hours of storage were needed. Instead, long-duration storage was obtained by concatenating batteries with four-hour storage together. In a sensitivity test, we found that even if battery prices were 50 percent higher, overall costs would be only 3.2 percent higher than their base estimate.

We also considered seasonal heat storage underground in soil plus short-term heat storage in water tanks. Seasonal heat storage is useful for district heating. With district heating, heat is produced and stored in a centralized location then piped via hot water to buildings for air and water heating. The alternative to district heating is using heat pumps in each building. The study found that the more district heating available, the easier it was to keep the electric grid stable at lower cost since it reduced the need for batteries to provide immediate electricity to heat pumps. Batteries are more expensive than underground heat storage.

We found that the overall upfront cost to replace all energy in the 145 countries, which emit 99.7 percent of world carbon dioxide, is about $62 trillion. However, due to the $11 trillion annual energy cost savings, the payback time for the new system is less than six years.

The new system may also create over 28 million more long-term, full-time jobs than lost worldwide and require only about 0.53 percent of the world’s land for new energy, with most of this area being empty space between wind turbines on land that can be used for multiple purposes. Thus, we found that the new system may require less energy, cost less and creates more jobs than the current system.

Another interesting finding was that, with a fully renewable system, charging battery-electric vehicles during the day was less expensive for the grid than charging them at night because day charging matched well with solar electricity production.

According to Anna von Krauland, a Stanford Ph.D. student who participated in the study, a main implication is that it “tells us that for the 145 countries examined, energy security is within reach, and more importantly, how to obtain it.”

It’s important to note that we did not include technologies that did not address air pollution, global warming and energy security together. It did not include bioenergy, natural gas, fossil fuels or bioenergy with carbon dioxide capture, direct air capture of carbon dioxide, blue hydrogen or nuclear power. We concluded that these technologies are not needed and provide less benefit than those we included.

Finally, our findings contend that a transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy in each country should occur ideally by 2035, and no later than 2050, with an 80 percent transition by 2030.

Mark Z. Jacobson is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. His work forms the scientific bases for the U.S. Green New Deal. He is also the author of a book and textbook on transitioning to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. He is co-author of the new study “Low-Cost Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Insecurity for 145 Countries,” which includes summaries for each country and an infographic map.


8 Responses to “Stanford Study: Lower Costs by Switching to Renewables”

  1. jimbills Says:

    I saw this a few days ago:

    It kind of emphasizes the need to overbuild renewables, or at least greatly increase transmission, to ensure supply.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      The study concludes that we do not need miracle technologies to solve these problems.

      I conclude we need miracle politics to solve these problems.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      [Other comment not meant to be a reply to you.]

      Decades back I had a vision of private parties putting up wind turbines that were connected both to the grid and a local machine that ran when the grid prices were too low to sell the energy. When the regional power is very cheap, you can divert your wind turbine power to a “background task” (like computers do with spare cycles). Over the course of a year either you’ve sold all of your wind turbine output at a nice price, or you have some low-cost wool sweaters for extra income:

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    Jacobson: “We found that the overall upfront cost to replace all energy in the 145 countries, which emit 99.7 percent of world carbon dioxide, is about $62 trillion. However, due to the $11 trillion annual energy cost savings, the payback time for the new system is less than six years.” Thanks for reporting on the wonderful efforts of people like Dr. Jacobson to put a number on ‘what it takes’ to solve the climate crisis. At the very least, every fossil-fueled naysayer speaking against Dr. Jacobson will now be forced to document, in exhaustive detail, why he disagrees. And to those people, please don’t carp about how 6 meters of sea level rise, globally, will be a piece of cake, because Amsterdam already showed us how its done. I’m surprised that fossil-fueled deniers, like Stuart Kirk of HSBC bank, can still get away with confusing ‘feet’ and ‘meters’, and ‘Amsterdam’ with ‘World’, with no apparent price to their credibility.

  3. Switching from a hydrocarbon energy system to an electric and battery one is not like going from cathode ray tubes to flat screen TVs. EVs and batteries are incredibly mineral intensive and it’s not just the increase in the minerals. There’s the slag left from the ore and stuff you have to dig up to get to the ore. This Mark Mills quote is the best example I can find of what you’re up against:

    A recent analysis by the Wood Mackenzie consultancy found that if EVs are to account for two-thirds of all new car purchases by 2030, dozens of new mines must be opened just to meet automotive demands—each mine the size of the world’s biggest in each category today. But 2030 is only eight years away and, as the IEA has reported, opening a new mine takes 16 years on average.

    Despite these and similar analyses, many countries, and many US states, are now proposing to accelerate deployment of solar, wind, and battery technologies without clear plans for overcoming the material shortfalls. One study sponsored by the Dutch government offered a blunt statement of reality: “Exponential growth in [global] renewable energy production capacity is not possible with present-day technologies and annual metal production.”

    Another area of concern for these new technologies is their future cost, which will be inseparable from the velocity and scale of their entry into the market. Today, future plans for solar, wind, and battery technologies assume costs will continue to fall significantly, as they have over the last decade. But the implications of record-breaking demands for mineral commodities suggest the reverse is more likely.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      The primary ingredient of a solar panel is sand (silicon). And I don’t see the World’s ability to make things out of Iron suddenly placed at risk because of windmills. The stark drop in the prices of these items over the last two decades suggest the bottlenecks you imagine have not come true. I don’t see them coming true in the future, but that’s how capitalism works.

      This argument, that we have to keep burning fossil fuels, and heating the planet, because you’re an environmentalist, makes little sense. We have to deal with the crisis at hand, not speculate about what problems our solutions will create. And, at this point, I would say your concern is purely speculative.

      • John Oneill Says:

        ‘The primary ingredient of a solar panel is..’ polyslicon, of which 90% of the world’s supply is made in China, and largely powered by coal. Prices have been rising to an eleven year high, as energy prices surge. Power shortages there have led to production cuts in panel factories too (as have Covid lockdowns.)
        Mark Jacobson claims that electric cars will be easier to charge during the day, when solar actually works- never mind that that’s when most people are trying to use them. He would have us building enormous quantities of batteries to power transport, still more to keep the grid going after dark, and more yet to run district heating. Plus more still for those low-sun days – or seasons.
        A nuclear powered grid could provide electricity all day and through the evening peak demand period, charge batteries just for transport the rest of the night, and use it’s ~60% of waste heat to provide very cheap district heating (or desalinisation.) Even the spent fuel -‘waste’- could be used in low-temperature pool reactors to run city heat networks. Used fuel rods still have nearly one percent fissile material left in them, and if held in heavy water pools, could provide another season or two of essentially free heat, instead of costing money to keep in spent fuel pools.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          “A nuclear powered grid could provide electricity all day and through the evening peak demand period, charge batteries just for transport the rest of the night, and use it’s ~60% of waste heat to provide very cheap district heating (or desalinisation.)”

          What would you say is the most successful real-world deployment of new nuclear power in the last 15 years? How was it paid for (government, utilities and/or private investors) and how long did it take to build? Was it enclosed-cooling or did it rely on a local natural water supply? What’s the operating overhead when it is idled for any reason?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: