An ambitious project details the renewable energy combinations by which 139 countries could go 100% renewable
The plan, from two Stanford professors, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, looks not just at electrifying the grid with renewable energy, but also the transportation system globally.
This would be a complete switch from gasoline-based transportation to electricity-based. Every car truck, van, forklift and lawnmower would be powered by electricity rather than an internal combustion engine. Instead of filling up at a gas stations when you run out of liquid fuels, every vehicle would simply be plugged in and charged every night.
So 100% of energy demand for both electricity and transport across the 139 nations by 2050 would then be met with a broad set of wind, water and solar technologies:
19% onshore wind
13% offshore wind
42% utility-scale solar
12% rooftop solar (between residential and commercial)
8% thermal solar power
1% between geothermal, wave and tidal
So far so good. But.
While the mix of renewables in the plans are appropriate for each of the US states – they are less so for some small countries. They seem to have skimped on research.
Some flaws in the research for distant countries
The tiny islands north of Russia’s arctic circle will never support 20% utility-scale solar, for example. They are further north than Alaska, the land of the midnight sun!
Similarly, they propose raising utility-scale solar from nothing to 16% in New Zealand, which typically has cloud cover near its one major population center, Auckland.
This might be an idea if that was the only choice, but New Zealand is already 75% renewable, mostly based on hydro.
Their plan would cut hydro from 55% to just 19%, and would keep geothermal – New Zealand’s other 19th century renewable – at about the 13% it supplies now.
It would split renewable energy between four main sources so it becomes 16% solar, 30% onshore wind, 13% offshore wind, and 13% geothermal and 19% hydroelectric power.
But wouldn’t it be easier to simply add 25% onshore wind to the current 75% hydro/geothermal mix to get New Zealand to 100%.
The depth of the research may also be lacking
Another issue is offshore wind. It may not be possible for small amounts of offshore wind to be sprinkled into so many small markets so far apart like New Zealand.
Offshore wind has gigantic power potential. But this is a technology that has been growing ever-more gigantic turbines yearly to the point where there are now only two or three ships large enough to deliver them in the world.
So, even now, it can be a struggle to deploy the truly gigantic ships needed to handle the North Sea where all the current offshore wind farms are located. That is because there are only a few of these huge delivery ships.
They are carbon rich because of their massive size, so you would really be adding to problems by sending one of these huge ships all the way to New Zealand to supply just a few small offshore turbines for only 5 million people, meanwhile slowing deployment in the real demand centers.
Better to concentrate offshore wind off of just highly populated coasts that need this much power, Europe, as now, plus the Atlantic coast of the US where a quarter of the US electricity demand is located, and the South China sea to serve China, Japan and Korea.