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Dec 12 / Jonathan

Wind, water and sun beat other energy alternatives, study finds

Wind, water and sun beat other energy alternatives, study finds

windfarmThe best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants, says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

And “clean coal,” which involves capturing carbon emissions and sequestering them in the earth, is not clean at all, he asserts.

Jacobson has conducted the 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. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options. The paper with his findings will be published in the next issue of Energy and Environmental Science but is available online now. Jacobson is also director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford.

“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,” Jacobson said. “Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels.” He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies.

534DA7D8-DA89-4458-9161-84076AC27DBB.jpgBest to worst electric power sources:

1. Wind power 2. concentrated solar power (CSP) 3. geothermal power 4. tidal power 5. solar photovoltaics (PV) 6. wave power 7. hydroelectric power 8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Best to worst vehicle options:

1. Wind-BEVs (battery electric vehicles) 2. wind-HFCVs (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) 3.CSP-BEVs 4. geothermal-BEVs 5. tidal-BEVs 6. solar PV-BEVs 7. Wave-BEVs 8.hydroelectric-BEVs 9. a tie between nuclear-BEVs and coal-CCS-BEVs 11. corn-E85 12.cellulosic-E85.


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  1. Ron / Dec 14 2008

    I don’t know how the paper by Professor Jacobsen could possible rank wind number 1 in his study. Wind is an unreliable source of energy varying dramatically from full to no output on the whims of wind currents that are totally unpredictable even sometimes within an hour. In addition, wind power equipment is notoriously unreliable and difficult to repair and maintain dues to its location 100 to 200 feet elevated. Hydropower on the other hand is dependable, easily maintained, very flexible in response to power demands, and has ancillary benefits unequalled by any other power source. If the Professor’s paper does not discuss these important issues, it should do so to obtain a fair comparison

  2. Jonathan / Dec 14 2008

    The entire paper is available (here), so you might want to see how they’ve dealt with your concerns. There are aspects of the paper I find troublesome, especially the use of ordinal category ranking to generate the overall rankings (Table 4).

    There’s more work to be done, and alternative ways to make the comparisons. What I like about this paper, though, is that it at least attempts to make the overall comparisons, and also attempts to factor in a wide variety of impacts.

    Hydro suffers unfairly because of the ordinal problem on the mortality score (Fig 4), it seems to me. On the other hand, the opportunity for a significant increase in US hydro is limited, and the environmental impact is significant.

  3. Ron Corso / Dec 15 2008

    I think you need to reconsider your comment on the limitations for hydro development. There are over 80,000 existing dams in the U.S. and only about 3 % are used for hydropower development. The environmental impacts of hydro development are minimal in comparison to other resources when using existing dams. The Electric Power Institute (EPRI) estimates that we could add 23,000 MW by 2025 without building new dams. The National Hydropower Association web site fact sheets ( provide a summary and link to the EPRI study on hydropower potential which could be as much as 90,000 MW.

  4. Jonathan / Dec 16 2008

    Why do you suppose that is? That so few dams have generators, that is.

  5. Ron Corso / Dec 17 2008

    It’s because hydropower is the most over-regulated energy resource. The Federal licensing requirements are out of control with numerous agencies all thinking they have the final say on licensing. There is no single agency that you can go to get approval. If anything should be done, licensing should be done by one agency that has final authority. It takes 5 to 7 years to get a license and the costs are prohibitive for a small project. Wind has nothing comparable as far as complexity or cost even though wind is a joke as an ebnergy resource. Wind is not economical without subsidies, it’s not dependable energy, and it is difficult dispatch on transmission networks.

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