The Leaflet: Is 100-percent Renewable Energy Possible?

Published July 13, 2017

A 2015 study co-written by Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson claims that the United States will be able to run on a 100-percet renewable energy by 2050. The study “develops consistent roadmaps for each of the 50 United States to convert their energy infrastructures for all purposes into clean and sustainable ones powered by wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) producing electricity and electrolytic hydrogen for all purposes (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry).”

Special interest groups and legislators have used Jacobson’s study to make the case for expanding renewable power mandates, net metering, subsidizing electric cars, and even the banning of hydraulic fracking.

In a recent Research & Commentary, Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson summarizes the findings of a 2017 analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) that critiques Jacobson’s claims. “Jacobson’s study used ‘invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions,’ according to the PNAS analysis. These ‘numerous shortcomings and errors render [Jacobson] unreliable as a guide about the likely cost, technical reliability, or feasibility of a 100 percent wind, solar, and hydroelectric power system,'” Benson writes.

“[Jacobson’s] study does not provide credible evidence for rejecting the conclusions of previous analyses that point to the benefits of considering a broad portfolio of energy system options. A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system,” the PNAS analysis says. Hydroelectricity, for example, is a plausible renewable energy system for some states but is not viable in all states.

States have implemented tax incentives and cost recovery programs to encourage citizens to use renewable energy sources, and many states have arbitrarily mandated renewable energy use. According to Benson, “Renewable-energy mandates – also known as renewable portfolio standards, which some states have enacted to require a certain amount of electricity generation to be provided by renewables by a certain date – are extremely costly to consumers and demand a massive amount of land use.”

Many of these costly mandates are also ineffective. A study by the Manhattan Institute shows the realities of an economy forced to use renewable energy. Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Robert Bryce found European countries with renewable energy mandates have seen electricity rates increase and job rates have decrease. “Renewable-energy mandates may appeal to ‘green’ voters; but Europe’s experience clearly shows that such mandates drive up electricity prices and hurt national competitiveness,” Bryce writes.

What We’re Working On

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Budget & Tax
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Energy & Environment
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