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Clean energy – achievable and affordable

In November 2009 in Scientific American, two American engineering and transportation scientists described “A path to sustainable energy by 2030.” In their article, professors Jacobson and Delucchi showed that carbon-free electricity for all of the world’s power needs can be reliably obtained from clean, renewable sources.
True, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a third higher energy demand by then, due to rising living standards and the growing human population. But the planet is plentifully supplied with wind-water-solar power (WWS) resources, and, as the authors show, properly networked systems of these can provide far more energy than needed. Their proposed, renewable-energy system uses technologies known to work today on a large scale.
They can do so at costs no higher than if our traditional energy technology were scaled up to cover the new demand. In fact, the journal editors state as a key concept that, “The cost of generating and transmitting power would be less than the projected cost per kilowatt-hour for fossil-fuel and nuclear power.”
The cost advantage stems from renewable source power being competitive now (wind, hydropower) or its price dramatically falling (solar) whereas, despite long and expensive taxpayer subsidization, coal- and nuclear-power costs have been steadily rising.
A string of recent plant closures, project cancellations or serious cost overruns, at the Tennessee Valley Authority and across the country, speak to the countervailing economic trends.
The path means aiming big with the WWS technologies. It would require 3.8 million large wind turbines worldwide.
But, when the needed spacing between them — usable for agriculture and ranching or as open land — is figured in, they would occupy only about 1 percent of the earth’s land.
Rooftop photovoltaic systems would cover very many homes and commercial buildings, while large solar power plants would take up 1/3 of 1 percent of land surface.
From geothermal and hydroelectric plants would come roughly a tenth of the total power supply, with most of the latter being in place already.
To place the large numbers in perspective, the authors point out that the world manufactures 73 million cars and light trucks every year.
Imagine the land surface asphalted over for roads and parking infrastructure for these!
Apart from their immense advantages in being non-polluting, free and forever available almost everywhere, the WWS renewable-source technologies offer an added, strong benefit of less operational downtime.
Coal plants, as the authors note, typically are offline for maintenance 12 percent of the year, but wind turbines on land and solar plants less than 2 percent.
Of the technical ability, through smart interconnecting and balancing the generation components to mitigate for intermittency of renewables, a local system set up in Gray is a fine example.
Mr. Hickmann’s solar array feeds TVA-reimbursed power into the grid during the day while a barn-affixed small wind turbine produces electricity mostly at night, and sporadically quite a lot on windy days.
When the scientists show a climate benign and economically competitive global energy system to be reachable so soon, let’s get on transitioning to it.