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Research & Commentary: Study Proposing 100 Percent Renewable Energy By 2050 Is a Pipedream

July 10, 2017

Much-Touted, Error-Ridden 2015 Study Declared "Unreliable"

An analysis by 21 scientists and academicians published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in June 2017 offers a thorough, devastating critique of a 2015 study co-written by Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson. Jacobson’s study claimed the United States could jettison all fossil fuels and rely solely on renewable-energy sources by 2050.

Jacobson’s study has been promoted by radical environmentalists such as Bill McKibben to argue states should ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” to recover oil and natural gas. The culmination of this “keep-it-in-the-ground” effort so far has been the introduction in the U.S. Senate of the 100 by ‘50 Act, a federal bill mandating the United States receive 100 percent of its energy from renewables in 37 years.

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.”

“While it’s great to talk about wind and solar in theory,” the authors added, “the reality is that the electrons that they generate have to be sent through wires and transmission stations to satisfy needs at particular places and at particular times — or else, we’ll have to come up with a way of storing electricity on a large scale, which remains a mostly unsolved problem right now. And critics have contended that while you can add some wind and solar to the grid without any problem, if you add too much, it can be destabilizing and the electric grid will always require some so-called “baseload” sources of energy, like nuclear or coal or gas, which generate power continuously, rather than intermittently depending upon the availability of the sun or the winds.”

This is not the first paper critiquing Jacobson’s study to appear. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory stated Jacobson “[does] not present sufficient analysis to demonstrate the technical, economic, and social feasibility of [his] proposed strategy,” and that, contrary to Jacobson’s claims, it would be “dangerously risky to ‘bet the planet’ on a narrow portfolio of favored low-carbon energy technologies.”

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.

For example, for New York State to meet its Clean Energy Standard, which mandates 50 percent renewable generation by 2030, it would require up to an additional 922 square miles of land for wind turbines and an additional 38 square miles of land for solar farms. Jacobson’s plan would require blanketing land twice the size of California with windmills and solar panels.

A 2014 study by the Brookings Institution found wind power is twice as expensive as the conventional power it replaces. The same study found solar power is three times as expensive as conventional power. These higher costs impose real burdens on electricity consumers: Retail electricity prices in states with renewable power mandates are rising twice as fast as the national average. An analysis by Energy in Depth found Jacobson’s plan would cost over 1.2 million jobs, while the Empire Center estimates the Clean Energy Standard would cost New York ratepayers $3.4 billion over just five years.

The repeal of renewable energy mandates would lower electricity prices, thereby raising living standards, stimulating long-term economic growth and creating a substantial increase in net jobs.

Living standards increase because lower-cost electricity frees up money for consumers to purchase additional goods and services, which improve people's lives. Economic growth and net job numbers would also increase, because the newly available money spent on goods and services would spur job growth throughout the economy.

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing, renewable energy, and renewable-energy mandates.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
This study is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have been created and $548 billion in annual GDP may have disappeared since 2009. Electricity prices would also be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of Renewable Portfolio Standards
This paper by Timothy J. Considine, a distinguished professor of energy economics at the School of Energy Resources and the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming, examines the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) of 12 different states and concludes while RPS investments stimulate economic activity, the negative economic impacts associated with higher electricity prices offset the claimed economic advantages of these RPS investments.

Research & Commentary: Higher State Support for Green Energy Increases Energy Costs for Consumers
Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses an analysis by the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF), which found, “States which offered rebates, buy-back programs, tax exemptions and direct cash subsidies to green energy were 64 percent more likely to have higher than average electric bills. For every additional pro-green energy policy in a state, the average price of electricity rose by about .01 cents per kilowatt-hour.” 

The Status of Renewable Electricity Mandates in the States
The Institute for Energy Research finds states with renewable electricity mandates have on average 40 percent higher electricity rates than those without such mandates. 

What Happens to an Economy When Forced to Use Renewable Energy?
The Manhattan Institute conducted an economic analysis of the effects renewable portfolio standards (RPS) had on the average price of electricity in states with mandates compared to those without mandates. The study found residential and commercial electricity rates were significantly higher in states with RPS mandates than in states without them. 

Study: Consumers Unwilling to Pay More for Renewable Energy
Relatively few consumers are willing to pay extra for renewable energy offered under voluntary “green” pricing programs, according to a report from the Institute for Energy Research. 


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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