Scientific American’s “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030:” the CostNovember 13, 2009
The cover story of the November issue of Scientific American, A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi promises a path to a “sustainable future” for the whole world in just 20 years. They define “sustainable” as a world where all energy sources are derived from water, wind and solar. Nuclear need not apply.
The article had a few words about the cost, but much was left out. Jacobson and Delucchi conclude that their grand plan will cost about $100 trillion dollars. I found this ridiculously large sum to be too low! My rough calculations yields a cost of $200 trillion!
This post is an attempt to fill in a few blanks.
I will accept the authors’ mix of energy sources, apply some capacity factor estimates for each source, throw in an estimate of the land required for some sources, and estimate the installation cost per Watt for each source. Since all of these numbers are debatable, I provide references for most of them. But some of the numbers are simply my estimates. Also, I consider only installation costs. I do not consider the additional costs of operation and maintainance, which may considerable.
Another point, the authors say that the US Energy Information Administration projects the world power requirement for 2030 would be 16.9 TW to accomodate population increase and rising living standards. By my reading, the Energy Information Administration’s estimate is actually 22.6 TW by 203013. Nevertheless, Jacobson and Delucchi base their plan on only 11.5 TW, with an assumption that a power system based entirely on electrification would be much more efficient. I will go along with their estimate of 11.5 TW for the sake of argument.
Here are my numbers
(click on image to get larger view)…
The numbers that I have placed in the blue columns are open to debate, but I am fairly confident of the capacity factors. The capacity factor for concentrated solar power, with energy storage, such as molten salt, can vary depending on interpretation. If energy is drawn from storage at night, then the capacity factor could be argued to be higher. On the other hand, it would result in greater collection area, collection equipment and expense. Note that using my estimates for capacity factors, the “total real power” works out to 12.03 TW, close to Jacobson’s and Delucchi’s 11.5 TW.
The dollars per installed watt is where I would expect the greatest argument. For example, Jacobson and Delucchi call for 1.7 billion 3000 watt rooftop PV systems. That is residential size, on the order of 300 square feet. You can find offers for residential systems at much lower rates than $8 per watt installed. But this is because of rebates and incentives. Rebates and incentives only work when a small fraction of the population takes advantage of them. If every residence must install a photovoltaic system, there is no way to pass the cost on to your neighbors. Click on the chart on the left, from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: of all the states listed, only one comes in at under $8 per installed watt for systems under 10 kilowatts, and half of the remaining come in at over $9.
Wouldn’t prices fall as technology advances? Not necessarily. Look at the cost to install wind facilities – it has been increasing since the early 2000s. A large part of the installed price for wind is the cost of the wind turbine itself. Click on this graph showing the price of wind turbines per kilowatt capacity. This increasing trend will likely continue if demand is artificially pushed up by a grandiose plan to install millions more wind turbines beyond what are called for by the free-market.
Expect to see the same effect for photovoltaic prices. While the cost of photovoltaic power has been slowly falling, the demand (as a fraction of the total energy market) has been miniscule. Jacobson and Delucchi call for 17 TW of photovoltaic power (5 TW from rooftop PV and 12 TW from PV power plants) by 2030. Compare that to the what is already installed in Europe, the world’s biggest marked for PV: 0.0095 TW. Achieving Jacobson’s and Delucchi’s desired level would require an orders or magnitude demand increase. This is likely to lead to higher prices, not lower. For my calculations I am staying with today’s costs for photovoltaics.
We have started using the word “trillion” when talking about government expenditures. Soon we may become numb to that word, as we have already become numb to “million” and “billion.” My estimate for the cost of Jacobson’s and Delucchi’s system comes out to about $210 trillion. So how much is $210 trillion dollars?
It is approximately 100 times the $2.157 trillion of the total United States government receipts of 2009 (see documentation from the Government Printing Office) .
It is about 15 times the GDP of the United States.
$210 trillion dollars is about 11 times the yearly revenue of all the national government budgets in the world! You can confirm this by adding all the entries in the revenue column in the Wikipedia “Government Budget by Country.”
What about just the United States?
Jacobson and Delucchi calculate that with their system the US energy demand with be 1.8 TW 2030. Keep in mind that the demand today is already 2.8 TW. If we accept their estimate of 1.8 TW, then that is about 16% of their estimated world demand of 11.5 TW for 2030. So roughly speaking, the US share of the cost would be 16% of $210 trillion, or about $34 trillion. That is 16 times the total United States government receipts of 2009.
Doesn’t seem to likely to work, does it?
I know that Jacobson and Delucchi don’t like nukes. But the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor price of under $2 per installed watt sure sounds attractive to me now. Just a thought.
Jacobson and Delucchi compared their scheme to the building of the interstate highway system. See here for are realistic comparison.
1) Capacity factor of wind power realized values vs. estimates, Nicolas Boccard, Energy Policy 37(2009)2679–2688
3) Fridleifsson,, Ingvar B., et. al., The possible role and contribution of geothermal energy to the mitigation of climate change. (get copy here)
5) Tracking the Sun II, page 19 , Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/emp/reports/lbnl-2674e.pdf
6) Projecting the Impact of State Portfolio Standards on Solar installations, California Energy commission, http://www.cleanenergystates.org/library/ca/CEC_wiser_solar_estimates_0205.pdf
7) David MacKay – “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html
8). 64MW/400acres = 40MW/km2 http://www.chiefengineer.org/content/content_display.cfm/seqnumber_content/3070.htm
10) I have chosen a low cost because most hydroelectric has already been developed.
11) 280 MW for $1 billion, http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/ss/related/77596
12) Based on my personal experience as a Scientist working on photovoltaics for 14 years at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This number varies according to insolaton, latitude, temperature, etc.
13) The EIA predicts a need for 678 quadrillion (6.78 x 1017) BTUs of yearly world energy use by 2030. One BTU is the same as 2.9307 x 10-4 kiloWatt hours. So, (6.78 x 1017 BTU) x (2.9307 x 10-4 kWhr / BTU) = 1.98 x 1014 kWhr. One year is 8.76 x 103 hours. So the required world power would be given by: (1.98 x 1014 kWhr) / (8.76 x 103 hr) = 2.26 x 1010 kW = 22.6 TW.