Life After Oil and Gas

Life After Oil and Gas

The New York Times devoted most of the front page of its Sunday Review section to a story promoting the green dream of “Life After Oil and Gas.”

The story cites an article by Stanford engineers published in the journal Energy Policy, titled “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power.”

According to the lead author, Mark Z. Jacobson, “It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil — we think it’s a myth.” The authors “suggest producing all new energy with WWS

[wind, water and solar] by 2030 and replacing the pre-existing energy by 2050. Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic.”

Jacobsen provides a shopping list that details what will be required to move to a post-carbon future:

• 3,800,000 5 MW wind turbines. After decades of subsidies for wind power, the worldwide total of wind turbines stands at 200,000. The goal of 3.8 million is astoundingly unrealistic, and 5 MW is a big daddy of a wind turbine; GE makes three sizes: 1.5 MW, 2.5 MW and 4.1 MW. I was fortunate enough to visit Aruba recently and drove past the wind farm in Arikok National Park. The turbine blades were 45 meters long and produced 3 MW. A second small wind farm on Aruba has met with fierce local resistance. Already these monstrosities have blighted the landscapes of Spain, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere. Adding millions of turbines will have a devastating effect on our rural landscapes, and the industrial-scale slaughter of birds and bats might lead to a real silent spring.


• 49,000 300 MW concentrated solar plants (CSP). CSP is being widely commercialized and the CSP market has seen about 2,500 MW of generating capacity added between 2007 and the end of 2012.


• 40,000 300 MW solar PV power plants.

• 1.7 billion 3 kW rooftop PV systems.

• 5350 100 MW geothermal power plants. The worldwide geothermal capacity in 2010 was 10,700 MW. We therefore need to multiply by a factor of 50 to reach this goal.


• 270 new 1300 MW hydroelectric power plants. Wikipedia lists 26 dams under construction that will come on line in the next decade, totaling 110,671 MW, compared the 351,000 MW needed. Hydroelectric therefore could feasibly play a major role in the future. Of the 26 projects, however, 15 are in China and 4 in Brazil.

• 720,000 0.75 MW wave devices. This technology may be promising but it is still being developed and has encountered numerous technical difficulties. Most of the current wave energy converters are in the .150 to .250 MW (150 to 250 watt) range and most wave farms have a capacity in the neighborhood of 20 MW.


• 490,000 1 MW tidal turbines.

Jacobsen’s article provides a thorough assessment of the future of WWS.