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While the planet warms from fossil fuel emissions, deployment of clean energy has been slow in the United States. That is not to say there has not been progress as wind and solar dominate new generation capacity in recent years. However, renewable energy targets for individual states remain at 30% or less by 2025. We are racing a clean energy tortoise against a carbon pollution Ferrari.

A team of researchers lead by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University examined the feasibility of replacing all fossil energy in the state of New York with wind, water, and sun by 2030. In other words, is it possible to achieve a 100% renewable energy portfolio in less that 20 years using existing technology? The answer is yes.

"Converting to wind, water and sunlight is feasible, will stabilize costs of energy and will produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage."

Mark Jacobson, Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering

Here is what it would take to kick coal, gas, and oil to the curb:

Under the plan,NYS’s 2030 all-purpose end-use power would be provided by 10% onshore wind (4020 5-MW turbines), 40% offshore wind (12,700 5-MW turbines), 10% concentrated solar (387 100-MW plants), 10% solar-PV plants (828 50-MW plants), 6% residential rooftop PV (5 million 5-kW systems), 12% commercial/government rooftop PV (500,000 100kW systems), 5% geothermal (36 100-MW plants), 0.5% wave (1910 0.75-MW devices), 1% tidal (2600 1-MW turbines), and 5.5% hydroelectric (6.6 1300-MW plants, of which 89% exist).

Jacobson,M.Z., et al., Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight. Energy Policy (2013),

That is a tall order, particularly the offshore wind component, but everything in the plan is already within reach using mature technology. Even without the offshore wind component, you are still left with a 60% renewable energy portfolio, double the most ambitious target of any state in the nation.

Here are some of the benefits of the 100% conversion besides shrinking the carbon footprint of the state down to petite:

-- A 37% reduction of end-use power demand.

-- Long-term energy price stability since fuel costs will be zero.

-- Drastic reduction in air pollution health costs, including 4000 deaths per year and $33 billion in health care expenditures per year (approximately 3% of 2010 New York GDP). These health care cost savings alone will offset the cost of 271 GW of installed power in 17 years.

Most people seem to forget that oil, gas, and coal costs are going to skyrocket in the near future. Global production cannot keep up with global demand. Natural gas is only cheap right now in the United States right now because the infrastructure does not exist to export it. A similar rush is on to export coal. The more domestic coal and gas sold on the global market, the higher domestic prices will go. Add a carbon tax and people who get much of their energy from fossil fuels will be paying through the teeth in the future.

Burning fossil fuels not only creates greenhouse gas emissions, but it fills the air and water with a bevy of toxins. The state of New York could pay for the transition in what it saves by reducing the health care costs from emissions.

For those interested in a serious debunking of the idea that natural gas is an ideal "bridge fuel" in the transition to clean energy, please check out section 2.1 in the article. The discussion of biofuels (sections 2.2 and 2.3) is also worth reading. The cost-benefit ratios for fuels designed to prolong the life of outdated technology requires serious reconsideration.

The potential offshore wind generation capacity near Manhattan is excellent. The question is whether the footprint of the farm to generate 40% of the state's electricity nearby would be acceptable to the penthouse crowd. Then again, you could probably generate 5 MW from the wind that comes out of Donald Trump's blowhole.

Here is why the switch to wind, water, and sunlight is feasible now.

Table 3 indicates that the 2005–2012 costs of onshore wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal plants are the same or less than those of typical new conventional technologies (such as new coal-fired or natural gas power plants) when externality costs of the technologies are ignored. Solar costs are higher. When externality costs are included, WWS technologies cost less than conventional technologies.

Jacobson,M.Z., et al., Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight. Energy Policy (2013),

The large scale production of wind and solar generation equipment has brought down costs to a price-point competitive with fossil fuels. That is cause for celebration. If we make the carbon combustion clean up the mess they create, it is game over and then some. The only reason fossil fuels are still in the game is because our political leaders lack the courage and integrity to enforce clean air and water regulations. We subsidize fossil fuels by allowing them to fill our lungs with soot, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds.

Perhaps the largest obstacle to the plan is for state policymakers to revamp the tax code to compensate for lost revenue from taxes generated from fossil fuels, particularly in the transportation sector. Property tax revenues are likely to rise with increased efficiency and stable energy costs.

The rate-limiting step to a 100% clean energy portfolio in New York is not any practical constraint. Rather, it is leadership. The same is true across the country. We can have a clean energy future within several decades if our leaders made it a priority. Instead, they are far more willing to accept large contributions from the fossil energy companies to maintain business as usual.

One thing the researchers do not mention is the impact that an ambitious program in New York can have across the nation. For example, ramping up electric vehicle use in a state as large as New York will likely encourage automakers to increase options, particularly in low- to mid-range price levels. Similar manufacturing scale impacts are likely with solar power, particularly rooftop installations.

The article touches on an issue that will further spur the clean energy revolution, namely grid level storage. The standard talking point used to denigrate wind and solar power is that they are intermittent sources. If you can store the energy generated by wind and solar power for use on demand, concerns over base and peak load capacity disappear. Grid level storage systems are now starting to mature with 56 GW of storage capacity likely within 10 years.

A recent study found two grid level storage systems have the efficiency for implementation - geologic pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS) and compressed air energy storage (CAES). PHS pumps water uphill to a reservoir when energy is generated and then releases the water to run downhill to generate power on demand. Geography and land availability are constrains on PHS. However, CAES has a smaller footprint and much more attractive. It uses compressed air in underground chambers such as the salt domes and wells proposed for carbon sequestration.

New York was the site of a DoE test site for CAES. Unfortunately, New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) announced in October that it decided not to bring the project online despite promising results. The primary reason given was the low cost of natural gas.

Upon completion of comprehensive engineering and financial evaluations, NYSEG determined that a number of site-specific issues, including the cost of site development, and energy market conditions, including the effects of inexpensive natural gas-fired generation on market prices, make the project at the Town of Reading site uneconomical.
It is rather short-sighted to assume natural gas prices will remain low. Then again, NYSEG has not stood up to scrutiny after being bought out by Iberdrola. Utility companies like NSYEG are an obstacle to progress.

The future of clean energy is now. What is holding us back is not technology, but  weak political leadership and fossil energy obstructionism.

I urge everyone with an interest in the clean energy revolution to take the time to read the preprint of Jacobson's article. We need more of these analyses to advance the discussion of what is possible with clean energy.

Help Us Spread the Word About Climate Change

For those of you on Facebook and Twitter: Please help to spread the word by hitting the FB and Tweet links at the top of this diary and if you have time, join the discussion with comments.  Share such postings with friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances.

Thanks, as all of this helps build the Climate Change movement as well as introducing critically important ideas about renewable sources of energy.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:04 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS.

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Comment Preferences

  •  One thing we know for certain... (8+ / 0-)

    ...daunting as the effort may be, we certainly won't get there if we don't set high goals and push to attain them. What the naysayers want is what they always want: to convince it's impossible. Like these guys in New York, our response should be not to listen.

    Thanks for this diary, and for all yours that ignore the naysayers, DWG.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:16:54 AM PDT

    •  Jacobson really did a nice job (3+ / 0-)

      As costs for renewables fall, I hope we see more studies like this one to help push the political caste to make changes. I just wish this study received more attention in the media instead of the breathless slobber over shale oil and gas, which give people the impression that oil and gas are going to be cheap even if they eventually create climate chaos.

      Be radical in your compassion.

      by DWG on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:42:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The report does not mean anything unless the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        policy provided will actually work in the electric utility system operator control room.    The package of wind, solar and water power is only as good as the water power magnitude of generation for meeting peak load requirements.

        Solar and wind electric generation cannot be relied upon to ensure that an electric utility system can meet peak demands, which must be assured 100% of the time for effective utility operation.  

        Because peak loads will often occur at times when solar and wind are not available at anything close to capacity.

        Your solar compliment of energy cannot be relied upon at night for meeting peak demand at all.   Because of the effects of large high pressure centers occurring at all time of the year, large multi-state regional areas can frequently have very light winds less than 4-5 MPH....during such times all of your wind capacity will be at or near zero generation.

        •  True (0+ / 0-)

          But the mix is important. They examined peak offshore wind relative to peak solar to develop the mix. To accomplish it would take grid integration. They also included solar concentrators to augment peak solar potential. It also cannot work without a big push to make buildings more energy efficient.

          For as long as our aspirational targets for renewable energy languish in the 20-30% range, it will not be truly transformative. You can reach a 20% target easily by if renewables are used to add new generation capacity. However, that only stabilizes carbon pollution. We need to reduce it.

          Be radical in your compassion.

          by DWG on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 02:17:39 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  If Germany can do it... (7+ / 0-)

    WE can do it. They've reached 25% of energy generation via renewables. They did it in ten years. If people knew how much we could do with current technology they'd be surprised.

    There is a difference between a responsible gun owner, and one that's gotten far.

    by BeerNotWar on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 10:23:36 AM PDT

  •  New York has fusion voting. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DWG, isabelle hayes, NancyWH

    Is any minor party making this an explicit platform plank and talking point?

    -7.75 -4.67

    "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

    There are no Christians in foxholes.

    by Odysseus on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 12:38:25 PM PDT

    •  I wish (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes, NancyWH, John Crapper

      A grassroots campaign to spread the word that NY can live quite well without fossil fuels would be awesome.

      Be radical in your compassion.

      by DWG on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 12:42:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A message of hope and a pathway to achieve it.n/t (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

        by John Crapper on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 11:23:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You said: (0+ / 0-)
        "NY can live quite well without fossil fuels"
        When I see a statement as this, I have to raise the following:

        I hope you're not planning on using electric resistance heating for meeting all of the residential, commercial or institutional space and water heating needs for post-natural-gas-NY.....especially since all of that electric load implied with that practice being additional to what electric generation and transmission capacity limitations of the present utility system build-out in NY.

        Finally, are you planning on ending the steel industry in NY, which cannot exist and convert iron ore to iron/steel as a matter of fundamental chemistry and process operation without natural gas and coal?

  •  A number of states will do better than 30% by 2025 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NancyWH, John Crapper my view, but sunk costs, NIMBY/siting issues, and capital supply will not allow a turnover to full renewable energy by 2025 in any large geographic area of the U.S. or Canada.  

    Easy to make money with fully paid-for equipment, and closing off that opportunity for plants that can be run profitably will be difficult.

  •  Broome & Tioga Co (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    have very active anti-frack groups.  There's also a Face book page, but I'm preaching to the choir here.

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 04:16:24 PM PDT

  •  Good to hear... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DWG, John Crapper

    Good to hear people saying it CAN be done. I get really tired of people (mostly associated with fossil fuel or nuclear industry) saying it CAN'T be done

    FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. NYC's Progressive/Reform Blog

    by mole333 on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 04:34:49 PM PDT

    •  Yeah - think possible, think out of the box, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DWG, mole333

      think big.  If this country ever truly got serious (WWII type of effort serious) you would see impossible becoming possible overnight.  Just takes leadership and unfortunately it's just not there.  All of the above just doesn't cut it.  

      It's sort of strange.  "All of the above" energy policy really means all of the "below and above" in that all fossil fuels and uranium dependent nuclear are on the table.   If it was truly "all of the above" it would mean only solar, wind, hydro and wave.  

      Booze helps one discover these strange associations.  

      If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

      by John Crapper on Sat Mar 16, 2013 at 11:32:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Health Impacts are very understated... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It appears that the Stanford study uses rather low estimates for the health impacts of electrical generation in New York State. This may be because the authors relied on extrapolating from outdated nationwide numbers rather than considering the specific context of New York State or the best methods for estimating health impacts.

    A recently released report by EPA researchers Ben Machol and Sarah Rizkon, the Economic value of U.S. fossil fuel electricity health impacts, shows clearly that the health impacts of electrical generation are very sensitive to location. The impacts depend on the specific local mix of technologies used to generate power as well as local wind patterns and population distributions. For instance, the report shows that the health benefit of clean power in New York is around $0.11/Kwh while in Maryland it would be around $0.71/Kwh. In California, the benefit is only $0.01 per Kwh replaced...

    Getting the health benefits right is important since it may be that a focus on near term health benefits, unrelated to climate change, will provide a means to motivate those who are skeptical of climate change. If we can convince folk that lower mortality, lower asthma rates, lower respiratory and pulmonary illness would result from cleaner fuels, then we might be able to convince them to support and work for precisely those things that are also necessary to reduce the climate impacts that they may not as easily understand.

    •  Adoption of renewable energy technologies (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is not necessary to both address and reduce health effects from PM10/2.5, SO2, NO2 and O3 since conventional emission control technologies can reduce emissions of the precursor emissions of these pollutants.   Moreover, many
      other non-electric generation emission sources contribute to the morbidity and mortality from air pollution from the pollutants I just mentioned.

      I find the whole enviro power plant serial killer/adverse health claim propaganda campaign to suffer from some serious conflation and error issues that rise to the point of scientific misconduct by people who are supposed to be practicing conservation stewardship.   None of these claims could be properly maintained as accurate depictions of the total health/morbidity/mortality effects in a court of law as alleged to be caused by specific individual power plants with what the body of analysis and evidence presently in hand by the big environmental groups.

    •  The strategy you ID'd in the last paragraph (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is the one used by the Proposal 3 campaign for renewables and that proposal failed miserably at the ballot box.   The Anti-3 campaign got more votes against Proposal 3 than the Democratic coalition got votes for President Obama in Michigan.

      •  New York isn't Michigan... (0+ / 0-)

        Here in New York City, we were recently enacted a ban on the use of No. 4 and No. 6 bunker fuel for heating. The major driver for the ban was the desire to reduce the health impacts of PM2.5 emissions and, of course, to also reduce CO2 emissions. I went to dozens of public meetings on the proposed ban and found that, in fact, the health impact arguments did motivate support in the community.

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