Electrification Alone Will Save 42 Percent Of World Energy Demand, Stanford Prof Says

Stanford Professor Mark JacobsonRod Searcey for Stanford University

Stanford Professor Mark Jacobsen

If humans can kick fossil-fuels, they will benefit from massive efficiency increases in every sector—a net savings of 42 percent of world energy use that will both derive from and ease the transition to clean energy, a Stanford University professor says in a video released this week.

The video followed the release of a roadmap in which Stanford’s Mark Z. Jacobson and 26 colleagues from Stanford, Berkeley, Berlin and Denmark demonstrate how 139 countries could rely on 100 percent wind, water and solar renewables by 2050. In the video, Jacobson rebuts the common notion that renewables are not up to the task of meeting world energy demand.

“We find that by electrifying everything in these countries and by providing that electricity with clean renewable energy, power demand goes down about 42 percent without really changing much habit,” says Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Stanford’s Atmosphere/Energy Program. For example:

  • About 13 percent of all energy worldwide is used to mine, transport and refine fossil fuels, so the elimination of fossil fuels immediately provides a savings of 13 percent. Jacobson includes the mining of uranium in this calculation, envisioning a future in which renewables also replace nuclear power.
  • About 23 percent of energy use will be saved because electric power is more efficient than combustion. An electric car, for example, uses about 85 percent of the energy in its battery to move the car, with the rest lost as waste heat. A gasoline powered car only uses 17 to 20 percent of its energy to move the car, with the rest lost as waste heat. So the transport sector alone could see massive improvements in efficiency, Jacobson says, of up to 80 percent. Across other sectors, including heating and heat pumps, the savings are smaller, but still enough to save 23 percent of the world’s energy use.
  • The remaining 7 percent in Jacobson’a calculation comes from “modest” policy-driven efficiency improvements that could be implemented during the transition.

Jacobson’s team focused on WWS—wind, water and solar power—at the expense of other technologies touted by some as clean, in part because WWS is ready to implement:

While some suggest that energy options aside from WWS, such as nuclear power, coal with carbon capture and sequestration (coal-CCS), biofuels, and bioenergy, can play major roles in solving these problems, all four of those technologies may represent opportunity costs in terms of carbon and health-affecting air-pollution emissions. Nuclear and coal-CCS may also represent opportunity costs in terms of their direct energy costs and in terms of their time lag between planning and operation relative to WWS.

The roadmap assumes that 27 million jobs would be lost that depend on fossil fuels, while 52 million new jobs would be created in the transition. It also estimates the transition would save 4-7 million lives currently lost to air-pollution and save $52 trillion per year in air pollution and climate costs.

“The changes in infrastructure would also mean that countries wouldn’t need to depend on one another for fossil fuels, reducing the frequency of international conflict over energy,” according to the roadmap document, which appears in the journal Joule (pdf via Stanford).

Watch Jacobson’s video:

By Jeff McMahon, based in Chicago. Follow Jeff McMahon on FacebookGoogle PlusTwitter, or email him here.