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How 139 Countries Can Avoid Blackouts With 100% Clean Energy

David Klein

Stanford Engineers: Here's How 139 Countries Can Avoid Blackouts With 100% Clean Energy

Stanford Engineers: Here's How 139 Countries Can Avoid Blackouts With 100% Clean Energy

By Taylor Kubota

Renewable energy solutions are often hindered by the inconsistencies of power produced by wind, water and sunlight and the continuously fluctuating demand for energy. New research by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, and Aalborg University in Denmark finds several solutions to making clean, renewable energy reliable enough to power at least 139 countries.

In their paper, published as a manuscript this week in Renewable Energy, the researchers propose three different methods of providing consistent power among all energy sectors—transportation; heating and cooling; industry; and agriculture, forestry and fishing—in 20 world regions encompassing 139 countries after all sectors have been converted to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Jacobson and colleagues previously developed roadmaps for transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050 with 80 percent of that transition completed by 2030. The present study examines ways to keep the grid stable with these roadmaps.

"Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost," said Jacobson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "This solution would go a long way toward eliminating global warming and the 4 million to 7 million air pollution-related deaths that occur worldwide each year, while also providing energy security."

The paper builds on a previous 2015 study by Jacobson and colleagues that examined the ability of the grid to stay stable in the 48 contiguous United States. That study only included one scenario for how to achieve the goals. Some criticized that paper for relying too heavily on adding turbines to existing hydroelectric dams—which the group suggested in order to increase peak electricity production without changing the number or size of the dams. The previous paper was also criticized for relying too much on storing excess energy in water, ice and underground rocks. The solutions in the current paper address these criticisms by suggesting several different solutions for stabilizing energy produced with 100 percent clean, renewable sources, including solutions with no added hydropower turbines and no storage in water, ice or rocks.

"Our main result is that there are multiple solutions to the problem," said Jacobson. "This is important because the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people's perception that it's too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output."

Supply and Demand

At the heart of this study is the need to match energy supplied by wind, water and solar power and storage with what the researchers predict demand to be in 2050. To do this, they grouped 139 countries—for which they created energy roadmaps in a previous study—into 20 regions based on geographic proximity and some geopolitical concerns. Unlike the previous 139-country study, which matched energy supply with annual-average demand, the present study matches supply and demand in 30-second increments for five years (2050-2054) to account for the variability in wind and solar power as well as the variability in demand over hours and seasons.

For the study, the researchers relied on two computational modeling programs. The first program predicted global weather patterns from 2050 to 2054. From this, they further predicted the amount of energy that could be produced from weather-related energy sources like onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar photovoltaics on rooftops and in power plants, concentrated solar power plants and solar thermal plants over time. These types of energy sources are variable and don't necessarily produce energy when demand is highest.

The group then combined data from the first model with a second model that incorporated energy produced by more stable sources of electricity, like geothermal power plants, tidal and wave devices, and hydroelectric power plants, and of heat, like geothermal reservoirs. The second model also included ways of storing energy when there was excess, such as in electricity, heat, cold and hydrogen storage. Further, the model included predictions of energy demand over time.

With the two models, the group was able to predict both how much energy could be produced through more variable sources of energy, and how well other sources could balance out the fluctuating energy to meet demands.

Avoiding Blackouts

Scenarios based on the modeling data avoided blackouts at low cost in all 20 world regions for all five years examined and under three different storage scenarios. One scenario includes heat pumps—which are used in place of combustion-based heaters and coolers—but no hot or cold energy storage; two add no hydropower turbines to existing hydropower dams; and one has no battery storage. The fact that no blackouts occurred under three different scenarios suggests that many possible solutions to grid stability with 100 percent wind, water and solar power are possible, a conclusion that contradicts previous claims that the grid cannot stay stable with such high penetrations of just renewables.

Overall, the researchers found that the cost per unit of energy—including the cost in terms of health, climate and energy—in every scenario was about one quarter what it would be if the world continues on its current energy path. This is largely due to eliminating the health and climate costs of fossil fuels. Also, by reducing water vapor, the wind turbines included in the roadmaps would offset about 3 percent of global warming to date.

Although the cost of producing a unit of energy is similar in the roadmap scenarios and the non-intervention scenario, the researchers found that the roadmaps roughly cut in half the amount of energy needed in the system. So, consumers would actually pay less. The vast amount of these energy savings comes from avoiding the energy needed to mine, transport and refine fossil fuels, converting from combustion to direct electricity, and using heat pumps instead of conventional heaters and air conditioners.

"One of the biggest challenges facing energy systems based entirely on clean, zero-emission wind, water and solar power is to match supply and demand with near-perfect reliability at reasonable cost," said Mark Delucchi, co-author of the paper and a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. "Our work shows that this can be accomplished, in almost all countries of the world, with established technologies."

Working Together

Jacobson and his colleagues said that a remaining challenge of implementing their roadmaps is that they require coordination across political boundaries.

"Ideally, you'd have cooperation in deciding where you're going to put the wind farms, where you're going to put the solar panels, where you're going to put the battery storage," said Jacobson. "The whole system is most efficient when it is planned ahead of time as opposed to done one piece at a time."

In light of this geopolitical complication, they are also working on smaller roadmaps to help individual towns, many of which have already committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy.

Additional co-authors of this paper are Mary A. Cameron of Stanford and Brian V. Mathiesen of Aalborg University in Denmark.


Ted F

Thanks for posting this, David. I appreciate Jacobson up to a point, but here is where my alarm bells go off.

Per Jacobson:
the greatest barrier to the large-scale implementation of clean renewable energy is people's perception that it's too hard to keep the lights on with random wind and solar output
Kind of like saying "the greatest barrier to the elimination of poverty in the United States is people's perception that it's too costly to pay workers a living wage and cover the basic needs of those unable to work" or "the greatest barrier to an adequate supply of food for every human on earth is people's perception that there are simply too many mouths to feed in the overpopulated South."

Jacobson evades any discussion of the institutional barriers -- the power relations -- that stymie solutions to these fundamental problems. I've heard his conclusions cited glibly by liberal climate activists who have no idea that Jacobson's proposed re-engineering of the world could not possibly occur under capitalism.

I'm glad someone is doing the arithmetic that proves that the real problem is political, rather than technical, but the celebration of technical feasibility still leaves room for delusion and obfuscation.

"The greatest barrier to an ecosocialist transformation of society is people's perception that the age of revolutions is behind us." No sillier than what Jacobson said here or his lawsuit against the authors of a paper critical of his earlier paper.

What do you think?

David Klein


I agree with everything you wrote, but I think that the technical work of Jacobson and his co-researchers should not be underestimated. It's critically important for several reasons:

1) He is under attack by advocates for nuclear power because he demonstrates unequivocably that from a technical perspective, 100% of the world's energy consumption (assuming capitalism) can be supplied by purely renewable, non nuclear, power without use of biofuels. So, his work is an important political barrier to expansion of nuclear power. For example, it is a powerful tool to rebutt the claims of James Hansen et al on this matter.

2) Jacobson's findings implicitly indict capitalism whether Jacobson knows this or not. Given that the world can easily move away from fossil fuels and still supply all current energy uses, why isn't that happening? The answer is that capitalism is incapable of not destroying the planet. The fact that we have the technical means to save ourselves but don't proves that capitalism is a failed economic system, and therefore must be replaced. Jacobson doesn't think so, but his scientific work leads to that conclusion. We should take advantage of this.

3) Assuming that capitalism is ended before the complete collapse of the biosphere, any new ecosocialist formations will be in desparate need of the blueprints for renewable energy frameworks with reliable energy storage and stable electric grids that Jacobson et al have contributed. The romantic hunter-gatherer model that some green activists envision cannot work for a human population of billions of people. There just aren't enough caves.


Ted F


I see your points!

Given the importance of Jacobson's hypothesis and its obvious value in rebutting Hansen on the necessity for nuclear power and confirming the need for socialism, doesn't the scientific method require confirmation from independent researchers? I'm hoping Jacobson's analysis will prove valid, but I am concerned that no one with scientific credentials has come to the same conclusions. Have y0u seen anything published by others that corroborates Jacobson's feasibility studies?


David Klein


The question you asked is addressed in my book where I give examples of studies you ask for, and there have been more investigations since then that support Jacobson's findings. For starters, one should note that Jacobson is not publishing these articles solo. He has many co-authors prominent in their fields. To illustrate, here are just two examples of his co-authored publications with the co-authors explicitly listed:

1) A 100% wind, water, sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy plan for Washington State (link: here)
Mark Z. Jacobson a, *, Mark A. Delucchi b, Guillaume Bazouin a, Michael J. Dvorak c, Reza Arghandeh d, Zack A.F. Bauer a, Ariane Cotte a, Gerrit M.T.H. de Moor a,Elissa G. Goldner a, Casey Heier a, Randall T. Holmes a, Shea A. Hughes a, Lingzhi Jin a, Moiz Kapadia a, Carishma Menon a, Seth A. Mullendore a, Emily M. Paris a,Graham A. Provost a, Andrea R. Romano a, Chandrika Srivastava a, Taylor A. Vencill a, Natasha S. Whitney a, Tim W. Yeskoo a

a Atmosphere/Energy Program, Dept. of Civil and Env. Engineering, Stanford University, USA
b Institute of Transportation Studies, U.C. Berkeley, USA
c Sailor's Energy, USA
d California Institute for Energy and the Environment, U.C. Berkeley, USA

2) Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight (link: here)
Mark Z. Jacobson a,n, Robert W. Howarth b, Mark A. Delucchi c, Stan R. Scobie d,
Jannette M. Barth e, Michael J. Dvorak a, Megan Klevze a, Hind Katkhuda a, Brian Miranda a, Navid A. Chowdhury a, Rick Jones a, Larsen Plano a, Anthony R. Ingraffea f

a Atmosphere/Energy Program, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA b Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University Ithaca, NY 14853, USA
c Institute of Transportation Studies, U.C. Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA
d PSE Healthy Energy, NY, USA
e Pepacton Institute LLC, USA
f School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

Moreover, other studies not co-authored with Jacobson support the findings of Jacobson et al. For example,

Budischak, C., Sewell, D., omson, H., Mach, L., Veron, D.E., Kempton, W. Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power, and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time. Journal of Power Sources 225, 60–74 (2013).

Abstract. We model many combinations of renewable electricity sources (inland wind, offshore wind, and photovoltaics) with electrochemical storage (batteries and fuel cells), incorporated into a large grid system (72 GW). The purpose is twofold: 1) although a single renewable generator at one site produces intermittent power, we seek combinations of diverse renewables at diverse sites, with storage, that are not intermittent and satisfy need a given fraction of hours. And 2) we seek minimal cost, calculating true cost of electricity without subsidies and with inclusion of external costs. Our model evaluated over 28 billion combinations of renewables and storage, each tested over 35,040 h (four years) of load and weather data. We find that the least cost solutions yield seemingly-excessive generation capacity, at times, almost three times the electricity needed to meet electrical load. This is because diverse renewable generation and the excess capacity together meet electric load with less storage, lowering total system cost. At 2030 technology costs and with excess electricity displacing natural gas, we find that the electric system can be powered 90%-99.9% of hours entirely on renewable electricity, at costs comparable to today’s, but only if we optimize the mix of generation and storage technologies.​

The University of Melbourne’s Energy Institute in Australia and a nonprofit organization, Beyond Zero Emissions, published a blueprint for creating an electrical system drawing 60% of its power from solar energy and 40% from wind in just a ten year period. Related separate studies by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Energy indicate that large majority of electric power for the U.S. can be harnessed from renewable resources in the near future.

More recently, I posted this independent study (which does not include Jacobson as a co-author) in this forum:

A new study has just been published, consistent with earlier findings by Mark Jacobson and others.

Nov 2017

Global Energy System Based on 100% Renewable Energy -- Power Sector.

"Key Findings: A global transistion to 100% renewable electricity is feasible at every hour throughout the year and more cost effective than the existing system, which is largely based on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but of political will."

"Existing renewable energy potential an technologies including storage can generate sufficient and secure power to cover the entire global electricity demand by 2050..."

The full report is posted here:


Hope this helps,