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What Will the U.S. Energy Mix Look Like in 2050 If We Cut CO2 Emissions 80%?

By Joe Romm on February 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

"What Will the U.S. Energy Mix Look Like in 2050 If We Cut CO2 Emissions 80%?"


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I’m seeking reader input to the headline question.

Rich countries like the U.S. need to cut CO2 emissions more than 80% by 2050 to have a serious shot at the 2°C (3.6° F) target climate scientists say is needed to avoid the most dangerous climate impacts and potentially irreversible tipping points (see “Study Confirms Optimal Climate Strategy: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, Research and Develop, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy“).  Here’s the key chart from the IPCC’s full Working Group III report (Box 13.7, page 776):

I’d like to put together a picture of the U.S. in 2050 if we met the target — but just the “modest” target  from the 2009 climate and clean energy jobs bill of an 80% reduction compared to 2005 levels.

Certain questions need answering.   How much total energy is consumed in 2050, which is to say how much energy efficiency and conservation has been achieved — they aren’t the same thing.  Certainly by 2030 (if not sooner), we’re going to be quite desperate to avert Dust-Bowlification and irreversible loss of the great ice sheets, so in the 2030s and 2040s one can imagine a considerable amount of conservation and dematerialization separate from the technologically-driven energy efficiency that is possible.  [No, I'm not interested in scenarios of economic/societal collapse.  That's avoidable if we act, but it is certainly in play if we don't.]

How much coal, oil, and natural gas is being consumed (with carbon capture and storage of some coal and gas if you want to consider that)?  What’s the price of oil?  How much of our power is provided by nuclear power?  How much by solar PV and how much by concentrated solar thermal?  How much from wind power?  How much from biomass?  How much from other forms of renewable energy?

What is the vehicle fleet like?   How much electric?  How much next-generation biofuels?  What about the rest of transportation, including air travel?  If  you want to waste time throwing in some hydrogen cars, I suppose that is your right, but it remains too expensive and implausible to be a major, cost-effective carbon-saver even in 2050.

Please, also, feel free to identify links to analyses that have already done part or all of this.  Again, I’m just looking for the U.S. energy mix.

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44 Responses to What Will the U.S. Energy Mix Look Like in 2050 If We Cut CO2 Emissions 80%?

  1. prokaryotes says:

    This wil become a part of the mix it seems..

    US commissions first new nuclear reactors in 30 years http://www.nature.com/news/us-commissions-first-new-nuclear-reactors-in-30-years-1.10014

  2. Leif says:

    The most massive change will be that the industrial/military complex deployes the Green Awakening Economy in every aspect of doing business. As if our lives depended on it. They will! Not only here but the world over. The Military offensive strategy will be to transform from a killing machine to a few small strike forces backed up with deployment of Green Tech and water conservation and food production serving the greatest good not the political elite, with enough “stick” to minimize losses. A fed, housed, watered and improving population does not produce terrorists. They resist in fact. All else will follow. IMO…

  3. Chase says:

    Of course you know that RMI.org offers some go-to analyses of this sort, e.g., Reinventing Fire and (older) Winning the Oil Endgame. The IEA World Energy Outlook offers a more conventional perspective. These detailed analyses are a quick google away. They have slightly different targets than what you’re looking for though.

  4. fj says:

    Just like it took a little while for the phone companies to provide high-speed data communications (at higher frequencies than required by voice) with DSL and cable it will take a little while to provide high-speed personal mobility much faster, safer, smaller, lighter, and lower cost, and lower energy, than cars with virtually zero emissions and minimal environmental foot prints.

    Cars do not fit in the future and will like start going the way of the buggy whip and horse before 2020.

    • fj says:

      Low cost high-speed net-zero personal mobility solutions will also start competing with air travel just like high-speed trains.

    • fj says:

      Buildings will be built much better with the majority of new ones at better than 90% efficient using natural services.

      They will also be a lot more comfortable and work a lot better and be easier to restore to good working order when something goes wrong.

      Micro-grids will play a huge part making buildings and infrastructures much more resilient and tolerant of extreme weather events.

      Solar will start to be the dominant energy source by 2020 with photovoltaic having virtually no moving parts; and, human power will play a significant part in transportation just as it does now but probably a bit more being much better understood and appreciated.

      • John Tucker says:

        storage/efficiency ???

        Every solar project in the south ive seen has had gas co gen installed. Which is kinda ridiculous considering solar peaks with electricity usage here, as nearly a mathematical identity. Obviously there are other plans in mind.

    • fj says:

      Advanced net-zero mobility is a major step up for the more than one-half billion Chinese cyclists and this will likely be the first place for broad deployment if leaders have not been corrupted.

      • fj says:

        Advanced net-zero mobility will also be a major step up for the developed world: major safety improvement, major congestion reduction, low cost, low energy, low emissions, convenient, practical, very low weight and size compared to cars takes virtually no space in dense urban environments; being distributed on-demand, can be very fast from point of departure to destination.

    • fj says:

      With efficiency being one of the most important methods to reduce emissions this is obviously the major reason for the fossil fuel “Merchants of Doubt” promotions of the really goofy Jevons Paradox aka Rebound Effect which in a nut’s shell (pun intended) states that the more efficient something is the less efficient it is.

      Net-zero building and especially net-zero mobility not only saves a huge amount of energy, money, lives, it works so well it is totally disruptive and would fully dominate the transportation market — it’s always fully dominated personal mobility (aka walking) — if the fossil fuel industry had not virtually monopolized transportation with corruption of governance and the idea that only expensive dangerous roads will do requiring high-powered armored vehicles, high-density energy storage, insurance, etc.

  5. RMI’s Reinventing Fire has a lot to say about this issue, as does the following article for California: Williams, James H., Andrew DeBenedictis, Rebecca Ghanadan, Amber Mahone, Jack Moore, William R. Morrow, Snuller Price, and Margaret S. Torn. 2011. “The Technology Path to Deep Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cuts by 2050: The Pivotal Role of Electricity.” Science. November 24. [http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/11/22/science.1208365.abstract]

    The following two part series is also important, but it has at least one issue with it (they tried to calculate the externality costs associated with the probability of nuclear war, and assigned it (or perhaps some of it, I don’t recall) to the cost of nuclear power). But aside from this mis-step, these articles have a lot of useful info:

    Delucchi, Mark A., and Mark Z. Jacobson. 2011. “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies.” Energy Policy. vol. 39, no. 3. March. pp. 1170-1190. [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421510008694]

    Jacobson, Mark Z., and Mark A. Delucchi. 2011. “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials.” Energy Policy. vol. 39, no. 3. March. pp. 1154-1169. [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421510008645]

  6. John Tucker says:

    I haven’t seen the studies yet but the French are saying the 2 degree goal is about out of reach it seems (but I think we already knew this) :

    2 Celsius is low estimate for climate change by 2100: study

    French scientists unveiling new estimates for global warming said the 2 C goal enshrined by the United Nations was “the most optimistic” scenario left for greenhouse-gas emissions.

    The estimates, compiled by five scientific institutes, will be handed to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for consideration in its next big overview on global warming and its effects.

    ( http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Celsius+estimate+climate+change+2100+study/6138445/story.html#ixzz1m78lLXL7 )

    • John Tucker says:

      But as to the mix I will make this prediction – it will be 100 percent Nuclear, As all energy today (and all matter) is derived ultimately from fission or fusion processes.

      Also I will say if we move to a natural gas based economy, where natural gas heavily augments “renewables” and keeps expanding into the transportation sector, reductions in emissions probably wont be possible.

    • The 2 degree goal is not yet out of reach, but it will be a challenge. The economic models used in the IPCC assessments embed rigidities that don’t exist in the actual economy, make the cost of action seem higher than it is, and underestimate the rate of change that is possible.

      For more discussion on these points, see Chapters 3 and 4 of my forthcoming book Cold Cash, Cool Climate: Science-based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs, due out Feb 15, 2012. http://goo.gl/ekApS

  7. Davos says:

    I’m pretty certain our energy mix will not be all that advanced from Natural Gas / Coal / Nuclear outside of a few energy efficiency changes (that may or may not reap benefits because of the legitimate rebound-effect in a GDP-advancing economy). The ratio may be adjusting, but economics will probably drive that more than climate, unless the two are linked.

    In the US, there has to be a substantial culture-change, coupled with certain legislative changes that will involve the Supreme Court, to suppress the due-process rights of NIMBY-types.

    Unfortunately, because there isn’t a sizable population of pro-green-energy types willing to permit their installation in their backyards (hint: nuclear? biomass? natural gas? etc.) — there will be no shortage of circular hypocrisy that other NIMBY-types will point to to delay or derail projects ideas in their area (this goes on right now too if you’re willing to admit it).

    So just like there needs to be a change in the ‘business as usual’ in the decarbonization of our economy, so too must there be a change of ‘business as usual’ in green energy activism, particularly when it comes to local deployment. “Deploy Deploy Deploy” means YOUR area too, not just some faraway land.

  8. MorinMoss says:

    George Monbiot claimed in his book Heat that we need a 90% cut by 2030 to avert the most disastrous effects of climate change.

    1) Was he wrong?
    2) Is it doable?

  9. Ken says:

    First, all this depends on setting a high enough price on carbon. Which looks unlikely to happen. But I’ll play along.

    A high price on carbon sets the cost of coal burning sky high. Oil will be in a similar situation just because it’s so rare. Airplanes will use liquid biofuels, but they’re about the only customer for liquid fuels left. Natural gas will be the cheapest fossil fuel. Artificial gas may in many cases be cheaper – I’ll get to that later. And the cheapest fuel is electricity, in order of cost, from gas plants (pretty much only peakers), battery banks and other storage systems, solar thermal (sorry, it’ll remain kind of expensive), geothermal, nuclear, solar PV, hydro, and wind.

    As you can see, there are a lot of less-than-reliable renewables in there. So supply-driven electricity load will be the cheapest power source of all. That’s power that the electric company can count on both to be used when necessary and not to be used when they’re short. So your freezer may go from 0F to -40F, your house may very between 65F and 75F, etc. (Oil and gas for home heating will practically be nonexistant. Electricity (possibly with heat pumps) will be the primary source, followed by home solar thermal and passive solar.) But that’s just the home side.

    Cheap supply-driven electricity will be a huge incentive for industry to vary their demand, as the price on carbon will be a huge incentive to sequester or replace carbon in fuels. This will lead to several things:

    First, yes, there will be hydrogen! But not like fuel cell cars. Hydrogen will be made from electrolysis of water, a process that doesn’t release CO2 and can be turned on and off with the varying electricity supply. Variations will be smoothed with lots of large storage tanks. As for uses, first, hydrogen will be added to the nation’s “natural” gas supply. It will be like ethanol in gasoline today: a 10-20% additive, enough to make a significant difference but not enough that we need new infrastructure.

    Second, biogas will be made from gasifying biomass. Sure, you could just burn biomass, but aside from home applications businesses will consider that both an expensive way to generate electricity and a waste of carbon credits from charcoal. Charcoal gets shipped out to farmers’ fields. The biogas could be added directly to the “natural” gas supply, but people probably won’t want to be poisoned by the CO in it. So it will be run through a Fischer–Tropsch process with a nickel catalyst, with extra hydrogen, to produce methane, ethane, and a bit of propane. CO2 from industrial processes will also be scavenged where possible and put through the same process.

    And what will we do with all this gas? Transportation fuel, mostly. I figure battery costs really won’t drop that much. Pure electric cars will have their place, and the rich will get plug-in hybrids, but the 99% (90%?) won’t be able to afford both big batteries and a gas (literally) powertrain. So we’ll wind up with most cars powered by compressed gas, with OPOC internal combustion engines and a small battery hooked to a large alternator to make mild hybrids. Pretty much all of these should get over 100MPGe (though the kids will wonder what the “G” meant.) Trucks can run on it too. Freight trains will probably be electrified, as it will be cheaper than gas, trains can often vary their speed depending on power price, and the electrification may provide a route to move electricity around too. And ships for shipping will use either gas, some solar, and some wind; or coal, depending on whether they’re exempt from the price on carbon. (What? People will game the system where they can.)

    • MorinMoss says:

      If the target was 2020, then perhaps. But going beyond 2030, most of the improvements and breakthoughs that have recently been made will be both commonplace and affordable.

      Not just batteries but energy STORAGE in general will be both significantly cheaper and practical within a couple decades, if not sooner, so the much ballyhooed renewable intermittency will be a relatively minor management issue.
      A bigger concern will be the state of the grid – if work doesn’t start soon on improving it, we’re in big trouble.

      For H2 electrolysis to be practical, a new process or catalyst has to be found but I think we’ll have more practical fuel cells by then so this may not be a concern.

  10. Joy Hughes says:

    I see a future that’s almost exclusively solar.

    It appears we’ve hit technological lock-in on C-Si PV, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see some GaAs in dense areas. Exponential growth of PV will cause power prices to quickly go negative during the day. This will wipe out baseload sources first (bye-bye coal and nuclear) in favor of dispatchable sources – demand management first, then a horse race between natgas, CSP, and storage. Efficiency and conservation rule the night, appliances run when the sun shines.

    Gas will peak very soon in the U.S. due to high depletion rates of shale plays (the oil drum has a couple of great articles on this), and well before 2020 will clearly be recognized as a “bridge fuel to nowhere”.

    I’ll bet on electrochemical storage – “Chu’s Law” states vehicle batteries will come down 75% from 2008 prices by 2015 and 87.5% by 2020. Zinc-air is a promising strategy for grid-scale storage, and nanowires for quick recharge. Longer life is the quickest way to get a lower cost per kWh. The fleet goes electric VERY fast. Retired EV batteries make their way to community-scale storage.

    Trough CSP finds its niche for industrial process heat, with solar thermal CHP (Cool Energy) an important complement. Both diurnal and seasonal heat storage Land use becomes a critical issue as solar will use up as much land as we have currently under pavement (in the U.S., that’s the land area of Georgia). We’ll need to have multiple uses of the land under solar – partial shade to protect crops from drying and heat, covered parking, rooftops, and the corners of irrigation circles. Regardless of the enthusiasm of some males, I’m not betting on molten salt towers as they are much less flexible in this regard, plus the extra cost of transmission (this constrains wind as well).

    By locating PV close to load, we wind up with a smarter, smaller grid. Read Amory Lovins, Bill Powers, John Farrell on this topic. Many simply go off the grid completely.

    Biofuels are a niche, mostly used for aircraft. Geothermal, tidal, wind, wave = niche, niche, niche, niche. We build the soil to sequester carbon.

    Exponential growth of PV can get us to 80% much faster than 2050 – say by the mid 2030s. We do need policies that support DG rather than transmission, and we need the utilities out of the way. Finance that supports the long view is hugely important – PV that lasts a century and storage as a service. You can pass your solar garden share to your children, and they to their children.

  11. Since you say that you are looking only for “the U.S. energy mix” I am not sure if this is helpful, but the EU Commission has published five different scenarios for getting to at least 80 percent by 2050, with the express idea that this could be useful for other advanced economies at well.

    Commissioner Oettinger said on February 7th that he wants the decisions on that long term strategy done by 2014, so as to give everyone involved long term certainty on policy until 2030. Please search for “High-Level Stakeholder Conference on the Energy Roadmap 2050″ if you are interested in finding out more about this.

    • prokaryotes says:

      Oettinger is a big friend of fossil energy.

      • Possibly true, but the scenarios all phase fossil fuel out. All of them are dominated by renewable energy, which provides at least 55% of energy (not only of electricity).

        Also all scenarios see much more electricity use, mainly from switching traffic to electric vehicles.

        My problem with their analysis is that their assumptions about the prices of solar photovoltaic are way too high. Their forward looking estimate for 2020 is 2678 Euro per kW, which is higher than current prices for small rooftop in Germany (those have gone under 2000 recently for a project including installation cost, do it yourself is even cheaper).

  12. Tom Murphy has done a lot in terms of number-crunching and looking at various options for energy (based on US figures). Check out his blog: http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/

  13. Kevin Lister says:

    Unless we stop the military industrial complex we will never cut CO2 emissions in any significant way.

    Despite recent requests, the UK government will no publish the carbon impact of replacing the Trident Submarine System. As well as covering the building, operation, defense and decommissioning of Trident, it must also cover the element of our economy that must keep consuming and producing to raise the taxes.

    To make progress we must link the failure of climate change agreements with the failure of nuclear disarmament.


    and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEvpFoyqkRI

  14. Mike 22 says:

    The existing detailed scenarios for a mostly post carbon American energy mix are well done, although I agree with Dr. Koomey that there is a lot of pessimism built-into the costs and timetables given. Motivated nations can do amazing things, and I don’t see that reflected enough (or at all) in the scenarios. Motivation is the first wild card in determining what our energy mix will look like in 2050. I’m motivated, I think RE is cool, love the zero energy thing, driving electric cars, and I genuinely thirst for a clean economy, but it’s not happening yet. Will it?

    The second wild card is in play already, and that is the plummeting cost of PV. PV is already warping the existing energy mix scenarios, likely dislodging a wedge of utility scale solar thermal. What next? Does it get cheap enough to drive a syn fuels wedge too? It could. Cheap PV coupled with cheap DHW heat pumps is already cost competitive and more reliable than residential solar hot water.

    Likely advances in energy storage technology–primarily chemical batteries–are the third wild card. I think the batteries are good enough now, but round trip cost of a kwh in and back out is way too high to compete in a free market sans CO2 policy. If the round trip cost of a kwh gets below ten cents, and PV goes to less than five cents, then the 2050 mix will be primarily renewable electricity. Inevitable grid upgrades will allow the economically movement of electricity cross country as needed, and batteries will firm everything up. Next generation modular nukes could have a role in supporting the grid also during cloudy windless events, but only if proven safe, and only if they are cheaper than the many non-radioactive alternatives out there.

  15. Bruce Nilles says:

    Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign is working to end coal use no later than 2030. Given that even EIA agrees energy demand will be essentially flat through 2035, the question is how are we going to replace the 42 percent of electricity we currently get from coal. Our preference is that all of it would come from wind, solar, geothermal and energy efficiency. If wind and solar simply met 20 percent of our electricity demand each we could replace all of the coal generation. For wind this is not a huge stretch – South Dakota and Iowa are already at 20 percent wind. We obviously have a ways to go w/solar, but with the rapid decline in PV prices and Germany’s runaway success w/deploying large amounts of solar, it clearly can be done. So we are busy building the political support to help make it happen. Given that coal burning generates about one third of all US emissions, i.e. about 2 billion tons of GHGs annually, ending coal use is a good downpayment for ending emissions of GHGs well before mid-century.

  16. Mark Shapiro says:

    PV scored an uncelebrated victory in the race to clean energy: it reached $1/Wp. That offers a 10%-15% ROI here in Chicago, and a 15%-20% ROI in the desert Southwest.

    Here’s how to use this astounding gift:

    1) integrate PV panels into the built environment (BIPV) to eliminate the installation costs;

    2) Use the DC electricity directly in our electronics, computers, and LED lights to eliminate the DC/AC/DC conversion costs.

    These are simple, but non-trivial changes. The military might lead the way.

    Energy efficiency (RMI’s main focus) AND conservation remain crucial tools to be improved, advertised, and celebrated. Wind should also continue to grow and improve.

  17. Mark Shapiro says:

    BTW, I apologize for failing to convince people — even fellow CP readers — just how wonderful it is that PV panels reached $1/Wp.

    We humans never bothered to prepare ourselves for this gift.
    We still think of roofs as expensive places for dumb, leaky shingles rather than as a home for our personal power plants.

    We think our computers and cell phones require power supplies to straighten out the AC into the DC that they actually sip. And an “uninterruptible power supply” takes AC from the wall socket, converts it to DC to store in the battery, to convert it to AC for your PC, which converts it to DC again.

    We think that LED lights are expensive because each bulb needs that same power supply and heat sink.

    Sun shines on roofs. PV panels make roofs. PV panels produce DC. Electronics use DC. Let’s play matchmaker!

  18. Start Loving says:

    My God Joe. Are you throwing in the towel? I’m not a NASA scientist, an MIT scientist, so I depend a lot on you guys. Please don’t blow me off on this – as I understand the science, we have until 2020, NOT 2050. YES 2050 looks realistic, and the Apollo astronauts floating in space dead also appeared realistic. My God man, we don’t have the right to throw in the towel on your kids, or all future creation. Is that what you are planning to reinforce with this?

    • Mark Shapiro says:

      ? Joe is asking what do we start today to reach the 80% goal by 2050. . .

      • Start Loving says:

        Thanks Mark. What I’m saying, asking is, that is accepting defeat, Hell, to use Joseph’s term. Is the purpose of the article to make clear that 2050 is unacceptable, 30 years too late? If not, this is unilateral surrender of eternity’s future to the Koch Bros, Exxon, Shell, Massey…. That’s unacceptable. Had the Egyptians thrown in the towel like that a year ago, Mubarak still would be in power. Is Lester Brown’s Plan B ‘full of it,’ scientifically, technically, economically, social science wise? Of course the politics are impossible, as they were at the time of the Revolutionary War.

        Is this not fully solvable – economically, technically, physically?
        1. an accounting scam problem – not showing the externalities on our gas and electric bills, and a
        2. case of misplaced defense budget, going after last century’s major-power threats, vs this centuries failing states threats, not to mention wars over submerging land, food and water?

        Has 350ppm as a limit been discredited?

        If I’m correct, and guys like Joe are unilaterally accepting defeat on 2020, surrendering to the ‘politics,’ unilateral surrender, well, the war is lost, without a fight.

        Tell me it ain’t so. Please.

  19. Paul Klemencic says:

    I have spent an enormous amount of time studying this issue, and the comments so far demonstrate a lot of the confusion and mis-representations, about solar PV and electricity storage costs using batteries.

    Solar PV total installed costs are NOT $1 per watt, but generally run over $4-5 per watt. Solar PV will penetrate the market until the annual electricity market share gets close to 20%, but then the economics break down due to summer dumped power. Hitting 20% of annual supply puts solar PV over 100% of annual average usage at summer peak supplies. A similar problem exists with wind, when wind climbs to about 15%, except the wind peak supply period is during the winter months. Solar PV and wind turbines are also throwaway systems that won’t have the longevity and long term very low cost supply that will come from solar thermal or advanced geothermal projects.

    Storing electricity is expensive, and even using PHEV or EV batteries leaves a significant storage problem.

    Thermal power plants using renewable thermal energy sources such as biomass thermal, solar thermal, and geothermal will take a significant market share of the electricity market. Thermal energy storage costs in terms of the kWh of electricity stored, will drop below one cent per kWh for publicly financed projects; this coupled with stopgap natural gas firing, give thermal power plants a big advantage as On Demand generators to fill in for solar PV and wind.

    My forecast for 2040:
    Green power sources will provide over 80% of electricity demand, with the mix including wind (14-15% of the total), solar PV (18-20%), solar thermal (28-30%), geothermal (16-18%), and biomass and other green power sources (3-4%). Natural gas (less than 10%), hydroelectricity, and remaining nuclear will supply the remainder, with coal less than 1% by 2040, and gone by 2050.

    I have a spreadsheet forecast showing number of projects, capacity factors, capital investments, operating costs, and energy produced based on current costs and forecasted cost reductions during the green power ramp.

    In the vehicle market, PHEVs and EVs, and biofuels will replace 90% of the US vehicle fleet by 2050. The rate of return for public subsidy investments to replace the first 20% of the vehicle market is off the charts, by far the highest ROI for any energy investments that could be made over the next ten years.

    The majority of fossil fuel emissions in 2050 will come from gas, primarily from industry use and stopgap on demand electric power generation. Residential use of natural gas should fall dramatically, as heat pumps take the load from natural gas.

    I have the average household expending about 4% for energy by 2040, and even less by 2050, compared to over 8% today. The green power ramp, and market shift in vehicles will be a tremendously positive impact on America’s economy.

    (Joe, I would love to discuss; check your email.)

    • David B. Benson says:

      Fine start but you have to use the 5 minute data for both load and for the intermittent genrators, wind and solar. I believ e you will discover that a rather stupendous amount of blk storage will be required. This puts a severe economic crimp on such plans; the cost drivers will indicate that a large component of nuclear ends up being far less costly.

      Having thermal storage is quite economic; I see no reason these could not be energized by NPPs [whose price is consideably below that for solar thermal installations and NPPs don't have the cloudy day problem].

    • Mark Shapiro says:

      $1/W PV panels cost $4-5/W to shoehorn into our 100+ year old system that was designed before Einstein discovered the photon.

      PV provides low-voltage DC — the highest value electricity. DC is required by 100% of all electronics, stored by 100% of all batteries, and now made more valuable by LED lighting — the most efficient, longest lasting lighting systems. Today’s LED light bulbs are expensive because each one requires its own AC-to-DC power plant!

      There are two huge dots to connect here: the world of DC devices and suddenly-cheap PV panels. Connecting those dots requires serious design work and standards — and 2 wires.

      • Paul Klemencic says:

        Support for the green power market forecast I wrote about in an earlier comment:
        Here is the link to a recent NREL report that is even more pessimistic than I am about the market penetration of solar PV.

        Mark Shapiro:
        Lighting, air conditioning, heat pumps, microwaves, electric ovens, hot water heaters, motors running washing machines, ventilation and heating blowers, refrigerators, freezers… all of these big electric power users in the home and commercial space use higher voltage AC, not the low voltage DC power from solar panels.

        Industrial use, like the kinds of plants that I have designed, built, and operated, uses even higher voltage power. Even California, with all its high tech companies, has as its biggest power user (after AC use) the massive water pumps in the state’s water systems (20% of California electricity use).

        I think your comment and data support what I commented earlier, and has been confirmed by the recent NREL report: solar PV will be limited to about 20% market penetration.

        • Mark Shapiro says:

          I hope/imagine that the large plants you designed were efficient.

          Thanks for the reply. I understand that 220 VAC (and higher) is great for the big appliances as you note.

          My point, my request, is only a DC standard — call it a mobile standard, or “Plug B” — to make electronics and LEDs cheaper and more efficient to power, from any DC source: PV, batteries, fuel cells, thermovoltaic, and of course, from a rectifier that you plug into a 110 VAC outlet.

          This standard would be invaluable for the poorest users who only need tiny amounts of power: for LED lights, a radio, a cell phone. A standard would allow for easy recharging anywhere for cell phones and tablets.

          I don’t expect PV panels to pump the Colorado River to LA, or to air condition California. But let’s develop the simple tools to connect the low voltage DC sources and uses.

          Make PV cheap and available where it has highest value, and see how far it penetrates. The panels themselves are cheap today, so all we need is a standard to connect them to those billions of high value DC (electronic) devices.

        • Mark Shapiro says:

          BTW, the objection I usually hear is that we can’t possibly bear another type of wiring in homes, but in my little house we already have:

          110 VAC, 220 VAC, phone wires, cable, 100BaseT, thermostat and doorbell wiring, and then AA, AAA, C, 9V batteries, plus the usual jumble of proprietary chargers.

          A DC standard would alleviate a lot of that even without PV panels.

  20. David B. Benson says:

    Brave New Climate has worked out quite a few of these proposed energy scenarios and offers cfritiques of others. Of course the persective is Australia so such analyses would have to be done anew for North America. {I remind all that the power grids in the US are in common with Canada (except Quebec) and also northernmost Mexico.}

    • Paul Klemencic says:

      Dr. Barry Brooks at Brave New Climate isn’t qualified to comment on green power, or energy economic analyses. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

      I reviewed one of his TCASE analyses of solar thermal power projects, and the analysis was riddled with rookie mistakes. He can’t even do a rough energy balance; in the case I reviewed he used excessive CapEx costs for solar concentrators, then simply dumped over 60% of the thermal energy collected by the expensive system.

      This was only one of eleven big mistakes he made in the analysis.

      • David B. Benson says:

        Paul Klemencic — Please then prepare a critique and post that to the appropriate TCASE thread. Almost everyone who posts on Brave New Climate is interested in providing the bast analysis possible, without prejudice.

  21. Ziyu says:

    Maybe we should also consider the fact that energy will also become mobile, as wireless electric transmission technologies improve. Improvement in those areas would greatly reduce installation costs for things like solar and make it small distributed networks much more advantageous.

  22. Raul M. says:

    The making of biochar for soil improvement will allow foe a great deal of heat energy which will be used for winter heating and also for the generation of electricity by the addition of boiler tanks and electric generators.
    Small mobile boichar and heat to electricity generators will enable the power plant to go where the fuel source is located. Nomadic bands of the boichar band will be seriously courted to visit in communities and so provide the luxury of the day and night. They will ,of course be highly paid.

  23. Ron Swenson says:

    Reducing carbon emissions 80% is a given if total energy consumption worldwide drops 80% (not just in the USA; we’re all in this together). With aggregate oil, gas and coal depletion from existing fields already reaching 5% or more per year, this isn’t a flippant scenario. Resource depletion has hardly been mentioned in this thread. What’s wrong with this picture?!

    Market penetration of renewables in 2050 will be close to 100%. But that 100% of then will be more like 20% of now.

    In 2050 our descendants are going to be using a lot less energy, period. Will they be happy about that? Not necessarily. Between now and then, fossil water aquifers will also be much depleted; exhausted fuel supplies will not be on hand to pump exhausted water sources from the deep; it will come down to a choice between meat for the few or veggies for the many. Think about it.

    Humanity has been kicking the can down the road for decades, in the USA since Carter.

    If we want our children and theirs to thrive, we in our time must begin figuring out ways to do a lot more with a lot less. I call it 10X. We are seeing solutions that use 10X less energy for specific energy services (light, mobility, …). These will actually bring us a better quality of life (except in countries like Nigeria (12 watts per capita) or Afghanistan (1 watt per capita) where energy is 100X less than in the OECD countries) … if, and that’s a big if, we actually transform our society from oil to ingenuity.

  24. Tom S says:

    One solution might be the Cyclone engine.