Skip Navigation

The Leaflet: Is 100-percent Renewable Energy Possible?

July 13, 2017

A 2017 study disproves a claim that the United States will be able to run on 100-percent renewable energy by 2050. Furthermore, the renewable energy mandates needed to achieve this goal are costly and ineffective.

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

Education
The Benefits of Small Government Also Apply to Schools
In this op-ed for the Deseret News, Heartland Institute research fellow in education policy Teresa Mull writes about school district consolidation, which has been happening at a breakneck pace over the last 75 years. Since 1940 the number of school districts in the United States has declined by 88 percent. Mull notes this consolidation has not saved taxpayers any money over the long-term and argues it has not served the best interests of students, noting research showing smaller schools do a better job  “reducing the negative effects of poverty on student achievement, reducing student violence, increasing parent involvement, and making students feel accountable for their behavior and grades.” Small schools, she notes, “mirror the nature of small government,” and “are better able to unite a community and meet its needs than a giant, sterile, out-of-touch machine.” Read more

Health Care
Research & Commentary: Missouri Should Avoid Overregulating Dental Service Organizations
In this Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines dental service organizations and how they can improve the cost and availability of dental services in Missouri. “DSOs have proven to be an effective tool for streamlining dental practices, bringing down costs, and allowing dentists to have more time to provide patients with dental services. Missouri should allow dentists to decide what business model works best for their practice by allowing DSOs to operate freely,” writes Glans. Read more

Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: Millionaire Tax a Bad Bet for Massachusetts
In this Research & Commentary, Matthew Glans examines millionaire taxes, the proposed hike in Massachusetts, and the failure of these taxes in other states. “While some supporters of the amendment argue large-scale relocation by wealthy taxpayers is not likely to occur, Massachusetts need only look to Maryland to know what the new tax’s effect will be. In 2009, Maryland created a millionaire tax projected to raise an additional $106 million. Instead of providing the expected new revenue, by the next year, the number of people in the state reporting incomes of $1 million or more fell by one-third,” wrote Glans. Read more

Energy & Environment
Research & Commentary: New Study Says PURPA Energy Contracts Are Needlessly Increasing North Carolina Electricity Bills
In this Research & Commentary, policy analyst Tim Benson writes about a new report from the John Locke Foundation examines why California is the only state with more solar-energy facilities than North Carolina, which is mostly due to the way the state has chosen to implement the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978. Because of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, as well as a recently sunset 35 percent investment tax credit and an exclusion on property taxes up to 80 percent for solar facilities, 60 percent of all PURPA projects in the United States are located in the Tar Heel State. Ninety-two percent of solar facilities in North Carolina qualify under PURPA. These decisions ultimate hurt ratepayers, costing them over $1 billion extra over the next dozen years. Read more


From Our Free-Market Friends
Anxiety about Automation and Jobs: Will We See Anti-Tech Laws?
James Pethokoukis, a columnist and blogger at the American Enterprise Institute writes about the fear over automation taking away jobs and how many people wonder if the government will create anti-tech laws, or even a “tech moratorium,” to preserve US jobs. Bill Gates recently suggested a robot tax, and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is currently working on a bill that “would establish an advisory committee that would counsel the Secretary of Commerce. The committee’s powers appear to be limited, but it is a first step in establishing federal policy in an increasingly important sphere.” Read more

Author
John Nothdurft joined the staff of The Heartland Institute in May 2008 as Heartland's legislative specialist on budget and tax policy. He was named government relations director in November 2010.
@thenoth