Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Q&A with Mark Jacobson

Mark Jacobson, the author of 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything, is here to answer your questions on renewable energy and climate change!

Mark Jacobson answered questions about his new book and 100% clean and renewable energy during his author webinar last week. We didn’t have time to address all the great questions we received during the webinar, so Mark has shared his answers below:

1. On the topic of measurement, does the book cover guidance of what to use when renewable energy and hybrid energy are used?

The book covers only clean, renewable energy and storage, and so it does not consider hybrid systems that include fossil fuels. It discusses (in Chapter 8) how to determine a mix of renewable energy generation and storage that would allow power demand to be met continuously with supply and storage.

2. Are you having any conversations with President-Elect Biden’s transition team with regard to implementing your plans/thoughts on a clean energy USA?

The 100% roadmap papers that have gone into this book, starting with the 2009 Scientific American paper, were the scientific basis of the Green New Deal, which has significantly influenced President-Elect Biden’s energy platform. I have not, to date, been contacted by the transition team.

3. Is it cheaper yet for utility-scale energy providers to invest in renewable energy systems than to continue using existing plants? Can you provide a few, brief numbers for comparison?

Yes, in many cases, it is cheaper to shut existing fossil or nuclear plants and replace them with WWS ( Wind, Water, and Solar) plants. This is why coal plants continue to close in the U.S. and around the world. This link includes an analysis on how using subsidies that have been allocated for nuclear plants to build new wind or solar farms instead can reduce costs.

4. The most compelling argument for nuclear power plants is supplying energy when renewables aren’t operating. Can you compare the cost of energy storage like batteries and pumped hydropower versus research and development, plus construction of Thorium nuclear power plants?

Nuclear plants do not provide peaking power anywhere in the world. In addition, they are down between 10-33% of the year for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. Nuclear plants, too, need backup. In 2-3 countries, nuclear ramps up and down slowly, but still not quickly enough to match demand, which is intermittent. According to Lazard (2020), new nuclear is about about 4-5 times the cost as new utility PV and onshore wind. Since storage is needed for both, new nuclear is not cost competitive. Another major problem is that it takes 10-19 years between planning and operation of a new nuclear plant (Section New wind and solar are on the order of 1-3 years now. Thorium reactors will be the same or more expensive than uranium reactors because the nuclear industry lacks much experience building thorium reactors.

5. We live our values of ‘greening the world’ by developing and operating, maintaining a fleet of renewables, we understand the importance of our existing green portfolio and the cost of managing it. Development and management of these assets are not cheap. Climate change as well will cost some countries more than the others. What is the social cost of carbon or the social savings of addressing climate change by the introduction of a 100% renewable approach? Does your book address this?

Yes, the book quantifies the social cost of carbon and the annual climate cost benefits of transition to 100% WWS. Benefits by country area also are available in the papers cited. (reference links are included at the end of this post)

6. Global warming and air pollution are (obviously) not the only impacts of energy production, and especially not for wind-water-solar. How do you consider land use impacts, aesthetics, and biodiversity issues? I see your analysis of bird kills, but what about various forms of either concentrated solar or PV farms that also take land?

The book discusses and quantifies land use and rooftop requirements for a 100% WWS system (in Chapters 7 and 8) as well as of a fossil fuel system (Chapter 3). It also considers bird and bat impacts (Chapter 6), human mortality and morbidity reductions due to WWS (Chapters 7 and 8), and climate benefits (Chapters 7 and 8) due to WWS.

7. Nuclear power enthusiasts advocate Thorium reactors for cleaner, safer power to fulfill need when renewables slacken. Is it possible to quantify the cost of energy storage like batteries and pumped hydropower versus R & D + construction of these? Are these costs disputed?

According to Lazard (2020), new nuclear is about about 4-5 times the cost as new utility PV and onshore wind. Thorium reactors will be the same or more expensive than uranium reactors because the nuclear industry lacks much experience in building thorium reactors. Both nuclear and thorium reactors take 10-19 years or more between planning and operation, so they are not competitive with wind or solar, where the time lag is now mostly 1-3 years. Nuclear weapons can still be developed from byproducts of thorium reactors, although it is more difficult than for uranium reactors (Section 3.3).

8. With improvements to the grid, how far could electricity be effectively transmitted? And given the catastrophic fires being started these days by transmission lines, how much should we be investing in this infrastructure?

Right now electricity is transmitted across the entire U.S., although it mostly stays either in the east or west.  However, we don’t need electricity to be transmitted across the U.S. or a big continent to have a stable, clean, renewable energy system. Having a good interconnection over several states, over several European countries or over regions of other continents can allow for the effective transmission of geographically-dispersed, solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro to where it is needed.

9. For the Netherlands, with its flat geography, what storage technology would fit best for buffering daily and seasonal fluctuations?

All energy sectors will be electrified or use direct heat, where the electricity and heat are produced from WWS. In the Netherlands, the use of seasonal underground thermal energy storage, which is inexpensive, can help significantly. Excess summertime wind and solar can be run through heat pumps to produce heat to be stored seasonally until wintertime, preventing waste of the excess wind and solar. Otherwise, combining electricity produced in the Netherlands with hydropower from Norway and Sweden and WWS from Belgium, Germany, France, and Denmark and with electricity storage can keep the grid stable.

10. Energy conservation and management is the practice of decreasing and manage the quantity of energy used. Because of the increase in our customers’ energy needs, we expect the critical issues are energy security and cost. If you discuss storage technologies in your book, do you also address the cost of managing such storage opportunities and do you have a favorite storage technology story?

I do discuss several electricty, heat, cold, and hydrogen storage technologies. The book also has several anecdotes about storage and how it has been used successfully in several situations. The book (in Chapter 8) further discusses the cost of storage in the context of keeping the grid stable in 143 countries.

11. What collective action and collaboration is needed by global governments and organizations to implement your recommended climate solutions? How likely is it these could be enacted fast enough to keep us below 1.5 degrees?

There is a discussion in Section 9.3 about how countries need to work together, particularly to help implement WWS in countries engaged in conflict and countries in energy poverty. Section 9.4 also discusses policies needed for a transition.

12. About the natural gas footprint: How does the climate impact of natural gas compare to other fossil fuel footprints? Are there any sources of natural gas that are considered to be ‘more green’?

The impacts on climate of natural gas versus coal, nuclear, and all WWS energy technologies are discussed in Chapter 3. “Green” natural gas is natural gas from landfills and manure, etc. Section 2.9.2 discusses how this natural gas should be used only to produce hydrogen through steam reforming and how the hydrogen should be used in a fuel cell (not burned), all to minimize pollution and impacts on climate.

References in the author webinar:

Here is the Scientific American paper:


Here is the 143-country roadmap paper:


Here is the 2009 paper reviewing different energy technologies and yielding WWS as the best ones:


Here are many of our country, state, and city roadmap papers:


Here is the link to the textbook and the slides by chapters:


About Mark Jacobson

Mark Z. Jacobson is Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.
In 2019, he was selected as “one of the world’s 100 most influential people in climate policy” by Apolitical. He has served on an advisory committee to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, appeared in a TED talk, appeared on the David Letterman Show to discuss converting the world to clean energy, and cofounded The Solutions Project. His work is the scientific basis of the energy portion of the U.S. Green New Deal and laws to go to 100% renewable energy in cities, states, and countries worldwide.

100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything is the first textbook to explain how 100% clean, renewable energy can be achieved, in a short time, using technologies that are currently available. This new textbook includes energy generation, storage, and transmission technologies for how to transition from fossil fuels.

Request an examination copy if you’re an instructor or order a copy today: www.cambridge.org/100cleanenergy

‘Mark Jacobson’s new book, 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything, provides the most authoritative look yet at the future of energy beyond fossil fuels. The text is clearly written, authoritative, and thoroughly referenced. This will make a great text book for courses on energy and climate change, but is also a must read for all of us interested in the transition to a renewable future.’

Robert W. Howarth, Cornell University, New York

Watch Mark Jacobson talk about renewable energy on The Fully Charged Show.

Latest Comments

Have your say!