Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Research Ranks Top Renewable Energy Options

Sarah Kuck

Modern wind energy plant in rural scenery.

Image credit: Wikipedia

New research from Stanford University ranks wind power as the most promising alternative source of energy. Titled Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, the report from civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson ranks the world's energy options -- putting wind, concentrated solar and geothermal at the top of the list, and nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration in a tie for dead last.

According to a recent article from,

Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.
"The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful," Jacobson said. "Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels." He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies.
The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife.

From his findings, Jacobson is able to suggest that the U.S. government invest money and create jobs around the development of wind, solar and geothermal:

"There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession," Jacobson said. "Well, putting people to work building wind turbines, solar plants, geothermal plants, electric vehicles and transmission lines would not only create jobs but would also reduce costs due to health care, crop damage and climate damage from current vehicle and electric power pollution, as well as provide the world with a truly unlimited supply of clean power."

Although wind energy cannot do it alone, Jacobson remarks, we can use a combination of the cleanest renewables to create a powerful, stable and consistent supply of energy for the United States. Here is how Jacobson ranks the renewables, from best to worst:

Best to worst electric power sources:

1. Wind power
2. concentrated solar power (CSP)
3. geothermal power
4. tidal power
5. solar photovoltaics (PV)
6. wave power
7. hydroelectric power
8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)

In addition to being a "dirtier" from of renewable energy, Jacobson adds that nuclear takes longer to plan, permit and construct. Also, it brings up major security issues, since finding and refining uranium for the plants has the potential to increase terrorist activity.

"The potential for terrorists to obtain a nuclear weapon or for states to develop nuclear weapons that could be used in limited regional wars will certainly increase with an increase in the number of nuclear energy facilities worldwide."

Having well documented, non-corporate funded research like this at your fingertips is extraordinarily helpful for everyone from community members to high-ranking government officials. Now that we are moving into a different political atmosphere, hopefully we can look forward to more scientific documents that will provide us useful, hard evidence for positive solutions.

To read the full paper, click here.

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