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Globo-renewables all electric future touted again

Still requires population freeze + universal poverty

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You and your street need to pay for an acre of solar cells every five years. Forever.

Let's also trust that in the electric future, the global all-electric European will require only 31 MWh/year rather than 46 MWh/year in line with Jacobson's ideas.

That means global energy demand of 217 PWh, more than double what the enviro-profs suggest - and that's without any population increase.

And the costs will be enormous - ironically, given that this is a sustainability plan, one might say unsustainably so. There will need to be an enormous 100m-tall wind turbine in operation - or an equivalent 6-acre array of typical solar cells - for every 150 people alive, no matter how many or how few of them there might be. That means, probably, one such facility for every 30-odd couples of what we now consider to be working age.

Wind turbines last 20 years; solar cells 30, perhaps. Every few dozen families alive will need to pay enough on their electricity bills to buy several acres of new solar cells (think US$10m) or a new cathedral-sized wind tower every two decades. Most of us find it quite hard work paying for a comparatively cheap little house on that sort of timescale.

These globo-Europeans of the renewable/electric tomorrow may be almost wealthy - well, not grindingly poor, anyway - in terms of energy use: but they aren't going to be rich in terms of disposable income, that's for sure. Their energy bills - paid partly on the bill and partly in the form of increased prices for everything that uses energy (eg food) are going to make their mortgages look small.

And this is just the beginning. Jacobson and Delucci are overjoyed to note that the necessary millions upon millions of windmills and sun-farms would - in their view - cover a mere three per cent-odd of the world's land surface, given a fair deal for seven billion people. But this will not be land surface which is currently served by the electrical grid - or even, in many cases, by any existing roads, rails or even dirt tracks.

Even the two profs admit that "expanding the transmission grid would be critical", and if pressed they'd probably admit the need for a lot of new road and rail as well. Remember, too, that we have just driven the price of concrete and steel - of construction in general - up, by an eyewatering amount.

And the new grid will need to be a hell of a lot better and bigger and more expensive than the current one. Large areas of the world suffer from days-long calms, so much as to make their windfarms actually consume energy rather than produce any. This, inconveniently, tends to happen in at least some cases during midwinter evenings, when solar is also doing little across such a region.

"Given the inherent variability of wind speed and sunshine, can these sources consistently produce enough power? The answer is yes," say the profs.

Perhaps: but you'll have to move huge amounts of power across continents almost instantly. The sun-farms of the Sahara will have to stand ready to power northwestern Europe as well as the future, Euro-level developed Africa - both at once. The wind farms of the north will have to be able to return the favour as required.

So increase the number of sun-farms and windmills, actually: redundancy will surely be required. Add the expense of a global hypergrid able to transmit terawatts across continents or oceans at the flicker of a needle. Plus the expense of covering the Sahara and such places with roads and rails the way European and US farmland now has them. No roads means no powerplants.

This isn't going to make your mortgage look small; it's going to make it look tiny.

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