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Saturday June 18th 2011


IPCC Criticized for Making an Accurate Statement: Renewables Could Meet Over 75% of Global Energy Needs in 2050

Last month, Climate Progress reported “IPCC special report finds renewables could meet over three quarters (75%) of global energy needs in 2050.”

This conclusion is hardly news.  Indeed it is rather obvious.  Nor did the IPCC  suggest it would be easy or cheap — contrary to what bloggers like Andy Revkin first claimed in a rush to pile on.  Indeed the IPCC said it would cost more than $10 trillion in investment over the next two decades alone and require many major policies changes.  Duh.

Stanford University’s Mark Jacobsen notes in an email to me today that there is an abundance of support for even stronger statements in the peer-reviewed literature:

Based on an independent analysis by Dr. Mark Delucchi (from U.C. Davis) and myself, published in several papers between 2009 and 2011, prior to the IPCC report [see here and here] we believe that a 100 percent conversion to clean, renewable electric  power sources (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, tidal, and wave  power) and electric vehicles and hydrogen for transportation, heating  and cooling, and high temperature processes, is technically feasible and economical.

So why have Andy Revkin and Mark Lynas used their blogs to attack the IPCC?  Because the source of the obvious conclusion was apparently unacceptable to them — Greenpeace.

As an ironic aside, the “source” of this attack on the IPCC is one of the most thoroughly debunked and discredited disinformers Steven McIntyre.  So I’m wondering whether we can now ignore Revkin and Lynas because they have used an infinitely less credible source than Greenpeace (see, for instance, here).

Oh, wait, I forgot, there’s the merits of the case against the IPCC.  Except, as noted, their conclusion was obvious — indeed, as we’ll see, it would be a near-certainty if we actually pursued Lynas’s own goal for averting catastrophic global warming!

Daniel Kammen, “a coordinating lead author of the report and chief specialist for renewable energy and efficiency at the World Bank, defended the report in an e-mail” to Revkin:

There is no Himalaya-gate here at all. While there are some issues with individual chapters, there is no ‘Greenpeace Scenario.’ The 77% carbon free by 2050 is actually more conservative than some cases. The European Climate Foundation, for example has a 100% carbon neutral scenario and Price Waterhouse has a very low carbon one for North Africa. Further, while the IPCC works from published cases, the scenarios are evaluated and assessed by a team.

What of the charge that published Greenpeace research was the basis for this 77% scenario — one of the many scenarios the IPCC looked at — and that the scenario was developed by Greenpeace’s Sven Teske who was also one of 9 lead authors on the IPCC report?

Let’s set aside that “Teske was nominated as an author by the German government.”  I sent links to the Revkin and Lynas articles to NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth, a lead author of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC Scientific Assessments.  He called the fundamental charge “a silly argument”:

Note I am not here commenting on the merits of the material, but the articles claim errors without showing there are errors.

Why is the report in error?  It does not show there is an error.  It only complains about an author from Greenpeace.

In fact it complains about using experts to write the report.  If the people who publish are not involved then the people left over would not be competent to write the report.   This is a silly argument that is gaining hold and being propagated.  Now that doesn’t mean that someone should review or assess their own stuff and IPCC is not supposed to allow that.  The whole process is supposed to be resilient to that and in my experience it has been.  So if one person has good ideas and good published stuff, it should be included.  And that person may well be an author.  And the review process should call errors out and is overseen by several review editors.   I simply do not believe the comments in these two articles based on what I know of IPCC procedures.

Drexel University’s Robert Brulle put it more bluntly to me in an e-mail:

Somebody from Greenpeace is on the IPCC – so the whole thing is biased? Good grief.

Lynas’s argument is doubly self-contradictory.  In his blog post, he keeps citing McIntyre and keeps referring to the original Greenpeace research as “propaganda.”  That, of course, is precisely what most of us would call  pretty much everything McIntyre writes.

Lynas has been penning pro-nuke articles that repeat long-debunked myths about renewable energy, that make errors of a factor of 1000, and that cite widely-debunked “propaganda” groups (see Mark Lynas pens error-riddled, cost-less nuke op-ed).  So I thought I understood where he was coming from.  But reading his post in detail, I realize I don’t.

In his blog post, he criticizes The Guardian for leading with the high-end renewables conclusion:

Renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world’s energy supply within four decades – but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power, according to a landmark report published on Monday.

And he is upset that the Greenpeace scenario doesn’t have new nukes in it:

Additionally, the Greenpeace/renewables industry report is so flawed that it should not have been considered by the IPCC at all. Whilst the journal-published version looks like proper science, the propaganda version on the Greenpeace website has all the hallmarks of a piece of work which started with some conclusions and then set about justifying them. There is a whole section dedicated to ‘dirty, dangerous nuclear power’, and the scenario includes a complete phase-out of new nuclear globally, with no stations built after 2008.

And he is upset that Greenpeace thinks we could do a tremendous amount of efficiency:

How is this achieved whilst also reducing carbon emissions at the same time, which is after all the supposed point of the whole exercise? By assuming a totally unrealistic global consumption of energy, with total primary energy use in 2050 actually *less* than the baseline of 2007. The magic trick of getting rid of nuclear whilst generating 80% of the world’s energy from renewables is performed by making an absurd assumption that primary energy use will fall (from 469 exojoules today to 407 in 2050) even as population rises from 7 to 9 billion and GDP per capita more than doubles. I doubt this is even thermodynamically possible, let alone the basis for good policy.


I ran DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the leading organization in the world for helping businesses develop and employ energy efficient technology.  I  published the first book of more than 100 case studies of businesses who used energy efficiency to cut emissions, have worked with many leading businesses on efficiency.  It is quite thermodynamically possible — if we had a high and rising price for CO2 and were aggressive about efficiency.

It would be politically very, very challenging, but here is precisely where Lynas’s whole line of attack falls apart.  In his post he writes:

I should say for the record, since I seem to be the sceptics’ new best friend (courtesy Watts Up With That), that this in no way undermines my commitment to phasing out fossil fuels in order to urgently tackle global warming. Indeed, my upcoming book argues for a ‘planetary boundary’ of 350ppm – which is going further than most green groups would.

Stop the presses!

Not  many people have seriously laid out a plausible scenario — or indeed even a very implausible scenario — for stabilizing at 350 ppm.  I have (see “The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm“).

It requires, as Hansen has noted, the rich countries to be off of coal (or have no coal emissions) within a decade and the developing countries to be off of coal in two decades.  Given that carbon capture and storage is wildly expensive and untested at a large-scale now, it simply compounds implausibility to think that CCS would be a major contributor in that rapid transition — sew Harvard stunner: “Realistic” first-generation CCS costs a whopping $150 per ton of CO2 — 20 cents per kWh!

Let’s be generous and give CCS one wedge by 2040 (sped up from a traditional 5-decade wedge).  Let’s be incredibly generous to Lynas and give nuclear 2 sped up wedges, which would require building nearly two major nuclear plants a week for 30 years!

The rest is going to be efficiency and renewables and we will need the scenario Jacobson has published in the peer-reviewed literature:

Based on an independent analysis by Dr. Mark Delucchi (from U.C. Davis) and myself, published in several papers between 2009 and 2011, prior to the IPCC report [see here and here] we believe that a 100 percent conversion to clean, renewable electric  power sources (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, tidal, and wave  power) and electric vehicles and hydrogen for transportation, heating  and cooling, and high temperature processes, is technically feasible and economical.

It will also eliminate 2.5-3 million annual premature deaths due to air pollution, eliminate global warming, and reduce world power demand by 30% due to the efficiency of electricity. We believe, all new electric power can be supplied by clean energy by 2030 and all existing power, replaced by 2050. Reliability can be maintained in such a system bundling renewables as one commodity and using, for example, hydroelectric power to fill in gaps and by using demand-response techniques.

The cost of electricity would be similar to that today. We would be silly not to go down this path due to the fact that it is so much more efficient than our current path. For example, the cost of electricity for driving an electric car is the equivalent of $1/gallon,  which compares with $4/gallon for gasoline to go the same distance. The cost benefits of reducing air pollution and global warming are enormous, reducing taxes and medical insurance costs to all.

So I assert that it is all but inconceivable that Lynas could achieve his stated goal of 350 ppm without the amount of renewables penetration that the Greenpeace study posits and that he attacks — and without levels of efficiency that Lynas claims might not be thermodynamically possible!

Lynas is quoted in the Guardian saying:

It is stretching credibility for the IPCC to suggest that a richer world with two billion more people will use less energy in 2050. Campaigners should not be employed as lead authors in IPCC reports.”

First, Lynas is apparently unaware of the tremendous efficiency gains through electrification.  As Jacobson wrote me when I asked a clarifying question on this point:

We assumed only modest efficiency improvements to be conservative. However, converting to electricity in itself is so efficient that total power demand decreases by 30%. For example:

Current world end-use power demand for all purposes: 12.5 TW
World power demand in 2030 with current infrastructure: 16.9 TW

End-use power demand in 2030 with WWS (wind, water,&  sun + electricity/H2): 11.5 TW (30% lower than 16.9 TW)

Our plan found it was technically feasible to do the conversion by 2030 but this was unlikely to occur, so the more realistic option was 2050.

Second, Lynas misses the point entirely.  It is “stretching credibility” to think that the world will stabilize at 450 ppm, let alone 350 ppm — in practice.  But the point of the report is not to look at what it politically possible today.  If that were the judgment criterion then Lynas’s  claim we must stabilize at 350 ppm would have to be thrown out entirely.  It demands multiple achievements that “stretch credibility.”  Yet on those admittedly unlikely achievements the fate of civilization rests.

This article was originally posted on Climate Progress