President Trump has nominated a fossil fuel advocate, Bernard McNamee, for a vacancy on FERC. McNamee is a professional energy lawyer, and has worked for a big utility and a Koch-funded think tank. He is currently executive director of the Office of Policy at the Department of Energy.
He wrote an op-ed for The Hill on Earth Day, a ridiculous paean to fossil fuels. It includes this sentence (my italics):
Some suggest that we can replace fossil fuels with renewable resources to meet our needs, but they never explain how.
This is a lie. McNamee is not a fool and the carelessness explanation does not wash for the head of the DoE’s policy shop.
There is a Wikipedia page on 100% renewable energy. It is quite long and has 113 references. The phrase “100% renewable energy” gets 37,700,000 ghits on a regular search. Add “scenario” and it’s still 5,750,000. Restrict further by using Google Scholar, and the numbers are 2,050,000 and 609,000.
The incomplete Wikipedia article covers the best-known such scenarios developed by Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi of Stanford. The work has gone through several iterations and now extends to 139 countries. They have set up a popular website called “The Solutions Project”. Wikipedia links to several other foundations with similar aims. It fails to mention the rival global scenarios of a team at LUT in Finland, sponsored by the German-based Energy Watch Group, restricted to 100% renewable electricity. (On a long horizon, decarbonisation calls for massive electrification, so the distinction disappears. ) There are also numerous scenarios for single countries. Many of these draw on simulations of electricity demand at resolutions of under one hour, precisely to test feasibility.
Far from not “explaining how”, the 2015 Jacobson scenario ran into a lot of flak for one detailed feature, retrofitting US hydro dams to operate in burst mode to cover gaps in wind and solar output. This was a bad-tempered dispute, with accusations of malpractice and threatened lawsuits. However the scientific process worked, and Jacobson’s latest scenario sensibly dials back the burst hydro and boosts CSP with hot salt.
An even simpler “how to” can be found in Andrew Blakers’ 100% renewable electricity scenario for Australia (paper, talk). This just relies on wind, pv solar, HVDC transmission, and pumped hydro storage. Batteries, biomass, demand response, P2G and geothermal are not included – if they work, then costs could be lower. This is striking as Australia is the driest continent, and every other region has better conditions for pumped storage.
I am not claiming that all the technical problems have been solved. Shovel-ready solutions do not exist yet for steelmaking, cement, shipping, and aviation. However, this would be an absurd demand. The earliest political horizons for carbon neutrality are after 2040, over two decades from now. Progress in the key technologies is rapid and it’s enough for researchers to point to plausible pathways.
What is striking is how limited these gaps are. We could get most of the way with today’s technology, as in the Blakers work. And in any case we are going to need massive sequestration to recapture gigatonnes of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, so keeping a little gas and offsetting with seaweed farms or something won’t be a dealbreaker.
To return to Mr. McNamee. I don’t think liars (or, best case, ignoramuses) should have posts of high responsibility in FERC or the Energy Department. Do you?
The cognitive corruption of the Trump Presidency is spreading down and sideways through the machinery of the American state like benzene in an aquifer.