Since the internet loves lists, here are our best-to-worst energy options if we want to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce air pollution, according to Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering Mark Z Jacobson: 1) Wind power, 2) Concentrated Solar power, 3) Geothermal, 4) Tidal, 5) Solar Photovoltaics, 6) Wave Power, 7) Hydroelectric, 8) Nuclear & Coal with carbon capture and storage (tied for last and which he recommends not using at all).
This is bound to ruffle a few feathers, so here are Professor Jacobson’s comments on how he came to this conclusions:Jacobson Considered a Wide Range of Environmental Impacts
Jacobson says he has conducted to first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability.
The Energy Sources Which Get the Attention Aren’t the Best Ones
The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful. Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels. [TH note: Jacobson includes cellulosic ethanol in this criticism] (Science Codex)
Wind Power Could Power Entire US Vehicle Fleet
On his top choice, wind power, Jacobson said that is the most promising, because it reduced carbon and other air pollution emissions by better than 99%; “the consumption of less than 3 square kilometers of land for the turbine footprints to run the entire US vehicle fleet, if the fleet were composed of battery-electric vehicles; and, wind power has virtually no water consumption.
I think it’s a bit of a fudge to only count the wind turbine footprint in the land requirements to generate wind power, but Science Codex went on to sum up Jacobson on that point,
Because the wind turbines would require a modest amount of spacing between them to allow room for the blades to spin, wind farms would occupy about 0.5 percent of all U.S. land, but this amount is more than 30 times less than that required for growing corn or grasses for ethanol. Land between turbines on wind farms would be simultaneously available as farmland or pasture or could be left as open space.
With Planning, Wind Power Can Be Baseload Power
And on the issue of the variability of wind power,
Jacobson said that while some people are under the impression that wind and wave power are too variable to provide steady amounts of electricity, his research group has already shown in previous research that by properly coordinating the energy output from wind farms in different locations, the potential problem with variability can be overcome and a steady supply of baseline power delivered to users.
The full version of Jacobson’s research will be published in the next issue of Energy and Environmental Science, but check out the Science Codex version for more on Jacobson’s views on our best renewable energy choices, and why nuclear and clean coal aren’t nearly so environmentally friendly as their supporters claim.