Cornucopian Renewable-Energy Claims Leave Poor Nations in the Dark

Photo by Udo | CC BY 2.0

The Stanford professor Mark Jacobson and his colleagues have written another paper purporting to show that 100 percent of energy demand can be fulfilled by wind, solar, and hydroelectric generation. This latest study, which comes in the form of a manuscript accepted but not yet published by the journal Renewable Energy, seeks to show how that goal can be met in 139 nations.

Jacobson’s previous “100 percent renewable” papers have prompted other researchers to publish their own studies pointing out faulty technical assumptions and analyses that cast a shadow over his claims. I expect that we will see technical critiques of Jacobson’s latest study as well published in coming weeks or months (if, that is, there are experts out there who are willing to risk being sued by Jacobson for questioning his results. He’s got one such sketchy lawsuit in the courts already.)

But even if we disregard the technical weaknesses of claims that all future demand can be satisfied with renewable energy sources—even if we assume for the sake of argument that such rosy scenarios really are achievable—there will remain the problem of energy poverty. As I have noted,

Billions of people around the world need more energy than they can afford, while billions of others can buy far more energy than is required to meet their needs. Global 100-percent renewable scenarios are based on these distortions; as a result, they typically aim to satisfy a worldwide per…

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