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100% renewable energy for all worldwide is possible: Q&A with Mark Z. Jacobson

As the Closing Plenary Keynote speaker at the upcoming Building Lasting Change 2018 with WorldGBC Congress Canada in Toronto on 7 June, Mark Z, Jacobson, Clean Energy Systems Expert and Educator will be discussing how to transition buildings, cities and countries to 100% clean, renewable energy for all purposes worldwide. In this exclusive Q&A, Jacobson discusses his theory on the grid integration of 100% wind, water and solar energy systems.

Tell us about your theory of 100% renewable energy and the three separate ways to avoid running out of energy?

The idea is to electrify or provide direct heat for everything: electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry, and provide the electricity and heat with 100% clean, renewable wind, water and solar. In addition, we will need more transmission and storage. We did a study showing how 139 countries of the world, including Canada, could go to 100%. We then did another study to see whether the grid could stay stable in 20 world regions encompassing the 139 countries. We found that it could with three different storage scenarios:

  1. In one scenario, we assumed electricity storage was satisfied with batteries, concentrated solar power with storage, pumped hydroelectric power, and existing hydroelectric dams with no modification and heat/cold storage were satisfied with water, ice, and rocks underground.
  2. In the second scenario, we assumed the same but no heat/cold storage at all. Instead, we assumed heat pumps running on electricity provided all hot and cold for buildings.
  3. The third scenario was the same as the first, but with no batteries. Instead, we assumed existing hydroelectric dams were modified to increase their peak discharge rates without changing their annual average power outputs.

All three scenerios resulted in low-cost wind, water and solar without any power outages.


You’ve stated that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100% clean renewable energy with a stable electric grid. Great news! 

Yes, the direct cost of energy per kWh with 100% wind, water & solar (WWS) is about the same or less than with the current electric grid. Additionally, 100% WWS results in 42-58% less energy use for four reasons:

  • Electricity has less waste heat than combustion so requires less raw energy (23% reduction)
  • WWS eliminates the need to mine, transport, and refine fossil fuels, a process that currently consumes 13% of all world energy
  • Our WWS plans reduce end-use energy efficiency by around 6-7% compared with the business-as-usual energy use
  • Heat pumps can result in another 15-16% reduction in overall power demand.

As such, although the cost per kWh is similar, a full 100% WWS system will result in half the consumer bills because it requires half the energy.

Whereas, the direct electricity cost of a 100% wind, water and solar, (WWS) system to consumers is half that of the current system as just described, the social cost is 1/8th. The health plus climate costs of fossil fuels is around 28 cents/kWh, whereas the electricity cost is around 10 cents/kWh for a total of 38 cents/kWh, switching to WWS, which is 10 cents/kWh reduces the social cost per unit energy to 1/4th. Because WWS uses half the energy, the overall cost of WWS is about 1/8th that of the current system.

What role do you see green building and more specifically Net Zero Carbon Buildings playing in this rapid transition to 100% renewables, and what can our movement do to accelerate this?

Most energy use occurs in buildings, so transitioning buildings to zero net energy and zero carbon by electrifying them will reduce any country’s total carbon emissions substantially.

Your theory talks about co-operation.  Are there great examples of collaboration that have really made an impact on the demand for clean energy? 

I think the votes by over 70 towns and cities across North America to go to 100% clean, renewable energy represent cooperation. In these cases, the city councils, who represent the people, often unanimously voted for 100%. This indicates a common goal and passion to solve the problem at a team.

Mark Z. Jacobson will deliver the Closing Plenary Keynote lecture on transitioning buildings, cities and countries to 100% clean, renewable energy for all purposes worldwide at the upcoming Building Lasting Change 2018 with WorldGBC Congress Canada in Toronto on Thursday 7 June. To find out more and to register, click here.