An in-depth study conducted by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson found that wind and concentrated solar power (CSP) generated electricity have the lowest lifecycle CO2-equivalent emissions of various energy sources. The highest? Coal-Carbon Capture and Sequestration (Coal-CCS) and nuclear. Also included in the study were estimates of “opportunity cost CO2e emissions”. The opportunity cost arises by developing less-efficient energy sources (nuclear, coal-ccs).
The time necessary between planning and operation of different energy plants unsurprisingly skewed toward renewables: wind, tidal, wave, solar-photovoltaic, CSP and ethanol plants typically come on-line within 2-5 years. That makes their inclusion into the country’s energy portfolio very appealing. Coal takes 6-11 years (no large-scale CCS project has come on-line yet) and nuclear takes 10-19 years.
So aside from a shorter time between planning a plant and having the plant become operational for renewables, is there another good reason to develop those sources rather than non-renewables? Absolutely. Wind over land can provide more than 3 times the amount of energy globally than what is used today globally. Solar over land can provide more than 24 times the amount of energy globally than what is used today globally. Combined, 29 times as much wind and solar power is available than is currently used. That completely debunks a major talking-point used by the fossil-fuel industry: there isn’t enough renewable energy to power our current way of life, so fossil fuels have to be used. Wrong. The only choice for out future are renewable energy sources. There is no other reasonable message from this study.
The study does a very good job of pitting every energy source against each other through multiple evaluations. By some standards, wind is the best. Others indicate CSP, or wind and tidal energy. When every evalution is combined into a final analysis though, wind and CSP come out on top. More importantly, renewables are clearly shown to be the preferential energy sources in our future. They are less costly in many respects than any of the competing fossil fuels. No more public tax dollars should be spent on coal, natural gas, oil or nuclear. Those industries are mature and their true costs to society are not factored into their usage.
We can no longer promote burning fossil fuels over developing renewable energy resources. The climate system is changing rapidly before our eyes – in many cases heading towards abrupt changes that are irreversible in any time-frame humans deal with. We must change our habits and our approaches today.