A Free-Market Energy Blog

Stanford’s Jacobson Spins Energy Misinformation (100% renewables fantasy)

By Steve Everley -- January 7, 2016

Environmental groups frequently claim that replacing fossil fuels with renewables will lead to more job opportunities. But according to a study that those same groups frequently cite, it’s not that simple.

According to research compiled by Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, whose recent study outlines a “roadmap” for transitioning to 100% renewable energy, replacing fossil fuels with renewable technologies like wind and solar would actually cause a net loss of 1.2 million long-term jobs.

Jacobson’s data break out the number of long-term jobs that would be eliminated by sector. In transportation, more than 2.4 million men and women would be put out of work. Over 800,000 people working to produce oil and natural gas would lose their jobs. Nearly 90,000 jobs connected to coal mining would be wiped out. All told, more than 3.8 million long-term jobs would be lost, far more than the nearly 2.6 million long-term jobs that Jacobson estimated would be created.

Job Losses

Jacobson does not dispute that millions of jobs would be lost by transitioning to 100% renewables, but he has nonetheless argued passionately that more jobs would be created and sustained under the new energy regime.

Opportunity for Green Activists

For years, so-called “climate activists” have struggled to gain traction, as the general public is far more concerned about creating jobs than climate change. A recent poll found that 63 percent of Americans believe job creation is more important than trying to stop global warming, which was “consistent with regular surveying for over two years now,” according to the pollster.

As a result, advocates for a renewables-only energy portfolio have begun emphasizing job creation, recognizing that citing economic benefits could potentially attract new supporters. When leaders from San Diego, Calif., announced recently that they would be transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, the New York Times reported the city’s Republican mayor “sold the plan to a conservative base in part by saying that transforming the electric grid would drive the economy and create jobs.”

In a 2013 interview with Scientific American, Jacobson was asked how he would “sell” his 100 percent renewables plan (at the time, he was only looking at data for New York). Jacobson claimed that “more jobs would be created than lost” by transitioning entirely to renewables.

In a recent interview with CNN, Jacobson said three times that transitioning the world entirely to renewables would create “22 million more jobs” than it would destroy. He even conceded that “one does not need to believe in climate change to want to transition energy,” due to the supposed economic benefits.

Unsurprisingly, environmentalists are using Jacobson’s claims about net job creation to try to sell their vision on economic terms, even if the details contradict that message.

For example:

Job Loss or Job Gain?

If the plan will result in a net loss of 1.2 million long-term jobs, then how can Jacobson and his supporters claim that transitioning to 100 percent renewables will create more jobs than it will destroy?

Jacobson’s data show approximately 5.3 million “Construction” jobs being created as a result of the renewables-only transition. After subtracting the 1.2 million net long-term jobs that will be lost, Jacobson’s data show “Net Total Jobs” at a little over four million. Even though Jacobson’s own chart shows a net loss of “Long Term Jobs,” he claims that the construction jobs – which his study classifies as “temporary” – are also long-term.

To be clear, creating new jobs for construction workers should always be welcome news, just as any additional economic opportunity should typically be encouraged. But according to many of the prominent environmental activists who have promoted Jacobson’s work, construction jobs aren’t “real jobs.”

In comments submitted to the U.S. Department of State by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, 350.org, and the League of Conservation Voters, environmentalists derided the “temporary jobs” to be created from construction of the Keystone XL pipeline as “minimal.” The groups also claimed it was a “myth” to suggest that the pipeline would result in significant job creation.

The Sierra Club trashed the construction jobs associated with Keystone XL, claiming they were only “temporary” and they “would be low-wage jobs.” The Club’s Keystone XL pipeline fact sheet also focused on the supposed lack of permanent jobs, arguing that “we should be investing in renewable sources of energy that will provide more jobs.”

In a 2012 interview about the Keystone XL pipeline, activist Bill McKibben suggested it was lying to tout construction jobs at all:

“Probably the biggest single lie that they [fossil fuel companies] have promulgated over and over again is that this would create, depending on whom you asked, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of jobs.” (emphasis added) 

A year earlier, on the Colbert Report, McKibben similarly downplayed the significance of construction jobs in relation to Keystone XL. “There’d be temporary jobs for a while,” McKibben said, “and then the point of a pipeline is, once you’ve got it, no one ever has to work there again.” He went on to claim that “the real jobs come when we get off Big Oil.”

How can environmental groups who have spent so much effort downplaying the significance of construction jobs now claim that the same types of jobs are worth promoting?

Conclusion

Many scientists have expressed doubt about whether Jacobson’s plan is even technically possible. Several published articles in scientific journals have found that he and his co-authors “do not present sufficient analysis” to show the feasibility of the plan, or that they only “give superficial treatment to relevant constraints on energy system transformations.”

More bluntly, Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s most famous climate scientists, says that promoting a rapid transition to renewables is a mythical belief:

“Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.” (emphasis added)

Those technical limitations only exacerbate the economic concerns of such a plan: For millions of American families, a transition to 100% renewables would be a costly endeavor.

23 Comments


  1. Mark Goldes  

    Revolutionary renewable energy technologies are being born that can rapidly go into mass production.

    Examples include conversion of gasoline engines to run on atmospheric (ambient) heat, a huge untapped reservoir of solar energy. A Ford engine proved the concept. AESOP is converting two prototypes to demonstrate practicality.

    Engine manufacturers can easily modify production to eliminate the need for fuel.

    See aesopinstitute.org for details.

    Reply

    • rbradley  

      Okay, but let the market decide. Let consumers and investors and civil society philanthropy decide, not government.

      Fossil fuels are very dense energies with storage already built in. They are the standard to beat, and it might be a century or many centuries from now when other forms of energies can do so.

      Reply

      • Willem Post  

        Robert,

        I made a study of the Jacobson report, which claims 95% wind and solar, plus 5% Other, can provide ALL of US energy, not just electrical energy which is only 35% of all energy.

        His study is flawed, because he uses highly optimistic capacity factors, which leads to lesser system capacities, MW.

        Then he uses optimistic capital costs, $/MW, which leads to lesser capital costs., which leads to a lower LCOE, which he claims would be less than BAU would be.

        His numbers are skewed to a rosy scenario.

        I determined the capital costs of his scheme, and of two alternatives using significant nuclear, no fossil, less wind and solar, and the same 5% Other.

        My capital costs are based on real-world CFs and $/MW

        After several emails with Jacobson, he agreed, the southwest-located, CSP with storage needs to be connected to a nationwide HVDC system to be useful. My estimate of that overlay grid would be about $75 billion.

        Similarly, any wind turbine capacity in the Great Plains needs to be connected to that HVDC system, which means its cost would double to about $150 billion. Jacobson agreed, that estimate was not included in his estimates.

        http://www.theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2264202/reducing-us-primary-energy-wind-and-solar-energy-and-energy-efficiency

        Reply

    • hunter  

      Bunk. There are no ambient heat engines that are going to come to market soon.
      It is a scam.

      Reply

    • hunter  

      And the website you link to is a so clearly a con job it hurts the eyes.

      Reply

  2. Michael P Totten  

    Here’s what Jacobson & Deluchi et al actually said, “Over all 50 states, converting would provide 3.9 million 40-year construction jobs and 2.0 million 40-year operation jobs for the energy facilities alone, the sum of which would outweigh the 3.9 million jobs lost in the conventional energy sector. Jobs are just one among a number of significant advantages in making the shit. “Converting would also eliminate 62,000 (19000–115000) U.S. air pollution premature mortalities per year today and 46,000 (12000–104000) in 2050, avoiding $600 ($85–$2400) billion per year (2013 dollars) in 2050, equivalent to 3.6 (0.5–14.3) percent of the 2014 U.S. gross domestic product.” In addition, “Converting would further eliminate $3.3 (1.9–7.1) TRILLION per year in 2050 global warming costs to the world due to U.S. emissions. These plans will result in each person in the U.S. in 2050 saving $260 (190–320) per year in energy costs ($2013 dollars) and U.S. health and global climate costs per person decreasing by $1500 (210–6000) per year and $8300 (4700–17 600) per year, respectively.” AND PLEASE NOTE: there is no ‘free market’ in energy — as the 2015 IMF subsidies report noted, governments worldwide provide $5.5 trillion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Moreover, state public utility commissions in 45 states continue to lock in regulatory incentives that reward thermal power plants over solar and wind power and end-use efficiency/productivity gains, as detailed in reports by the Regulatory Assistance Project (http://www.raponline.org

    Reply

    • Steve Everley  

      Michael,

      The overall “net job gain” claim is mentioned in the post, and it further explained in the original report that I published earlier this week: http://energyindepth.org/national/climate-activists-study-millions-lost-jobs-renewables/

      The issue here is apparently one of semantics, but also a lack of clarity from the data provided by Jacobson et al.

      It is in Dr. Jacobson’s own data sets, published on his faculty website, where a column exists that shows “Net Long Term Jobs” as negative 1,284,030. So any disagreement regarding the explanation of long-term job loss is a disagreement that you have with Dr. Jacobson’s own resources, from which all of these numbers were pulled.

      For some reason — I imagine to try to save face — Dr. Jacobson has simply called the construction jobs associated with the transition “permanent” because there will be 40 years of work required. That appears to me to be a significant, methodological flaw, but whether a person will have the same construction job for 40 years was never the focus of this post. Instead, it was to show that (1) Dr. Jacobson’s own data show a net long-term job loss, and (2) to highlight how the environmental groups who endorse Dr. Jacobson’s plan as a job creator have repeatedly denigrated the very type of jobs that they now praise.

      The environmental benefits you cite are similarly suspect, as numerous experts in the scientific community have questioned the validity of Jacobson et al. as a feasible plan. You can develop any number of projected benefits from a set of policies, but if those policies face technical hurdles that would prevent them from ever being implemented, the benefits will never materialize.

      Reply

  3. hunter  

    So-called “renewable energy” is an illusion bordering on delusion.
    High quality, high volume power, is what the world needs. That will never be generated by solar or wind.

    Reply

  4. hunter  

    I don’t know if Jacobson is a “true believer” or a cynic. It really does not matter.
    Green policies, regulations and business models fail worldwide.

    Reply

  5. Tom Stacy  

    Jobs is not the target. The target is greater domestic productivity and a positive international trade balance. Maybe a sprinkle of stronger immigration policy to boot. Full employment comes along for the ride. Lowest cost energy is part of the global competitiveness picture, which drives far more jobs than Jacobson or Everly contemplate. But Everly’s approach to Jacobson is commendable. Solid post!

    Reply

  6. Michael P Totten  

    Steve, I don’t think it is me who has an issue with Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi et al’s job estimates, but you. Simply pick up the phone and call them. They will readily disabuse you of your misinterpretation, and tell you that there are, indeed, several million NET job gains, not losses, in shifting to 100% WWS.

    But for goodness sake, if centuries of economic growth has taught us anything it is that industries grow and die, and massive job displacements, as new products and services supersede the old ones. As the American Enterprise Institute noted, “Fortune 500 firms in 1955 vs. 2014; 88% are gone, and we’re all better off because of that dynamic ‘creative destruction’.” Cars eliminated horses, electromechanical switches eliminated telephone operators, ATMs replaced bank tellers, robots are replacing industrial workers, AI is replacing white collar professionals. So are fossil fuels now being eliminated. As Tom Stacy says in his comments, “Jobs is not the target.”

    More competitive efficiency/productivity gains have displaced more than 25 million bbls of oil equivalent per day over the past half century, estimated independently by LBNL’s Art Rosenfeld, RMI’s Amory Lovins, and ACEEE) ,while saving multi-hundred billion dollars on U.S. annual energy bills, and still growing. The most recent estimates indicate efficiency gains could eliminate another 25 million bbl/day equiv for under $20/bbl.

    Moreover, in recent years, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s (LBNL) annual reviews of utility-scale wind and solar long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) have found good wind sites are generating electricity at 2.5 cents per kWh and good solar sites are generating electricity at under 4 cents per kWh (Texas, New Mexico, Nevada). This beats natural gas even with its current ultra low fuel prices, and even a large part of the existing coal fleet where just the O&M costs exceed several cents/kWh (4 cents/kWh for nuclear power, including 25% of the nuclear fleet with O&M costs averaging 6 cents/kWh). This is pure competitive head-to-head price comparisons.

    But on top of this are all the price volatilities and non-monetized and non-regulated negative externalities associated with fossil fuel consumption (which I already noted in my first comment exceed $5 trillion worldwide, eclipsing solar and wind incentives; most renewable subsidies have gone to farmers to grow biofuels, a resource not included in Jacobson & Delucchi’s assessment).

    Efficiency gains, solar PV and wind power require no fuel inputs, virtually no water to operate (95% less), and release no emissions, air pollutants, ground contaminants, and toxic wastes, whereas these are nearly intrinsic to thermal power plants (fossil and nuclear). State regulatory commissions in 45 states continue to operate under archaic last-century, industrial era regulatory incentive methodologies that pass these costs through to ratepayers (and taxpayers) instead of to the shareholders. These lifespan risks and liabilities are real market failures that, if included in the kinds of market-based innovative regulatory practices in 5 states, simply cannot compete against the disruptive technologies used by Jacobson, Delucchi et al in their detailed assessments. I’ve gone on too long, so won’t respond to the useless ad hominems of the other commenters, whose opinions are unencumbered by facts. As the priceless adage goes, “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

    Reply

  7. Matthew McCarville  

    Steve, your analysis is a joke. See Table 9 of Dr. Jacobson’s teams’ peer-reviewed paper in Energy & Environmental Science (http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf).

    As you can plainly see, for the U.S. there are 3,931,527 40-year construction jobs, and 1,971,907 40-year operation jobs; outweighing the 3,859,275 job losses in the current energy industry with 40-year net construction plus operation jobs by 2,044,158. (If you’re trying to be controversial, and are not factoring in the decimals hidden within the spreadsheet it will lead to the huge discrepancy of 1 job, ie – you might calculate 2,044,159 40-year net construction plus operation jobs versus 2,044,158.)

    Table 9 also clearly states 40-year jobs are the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) 1-year (2080 hours of work per year) jobs for 40 years. So, for construction jobs, if you think of them as 1-year jobs, you’d multiply 3,931,527 40-year construction jobs by 40, and the result is a whopping 157.261 million 1-year construction jobs. Personally, I prefer the way Dr. Jacobson’s team calculates it. You must have gotten lost in the spreadsheet that Dr. Jacobson was kind enough to post publicly on his website. It’s not surprising that you didn’t contact him with your questions, as I have in the past. He’s very helpful. Instead, you just tried to smear and attack his work. It was easily able to find Table 9 in the spreadsheet under the “Tables for 50-state paper” tab, and it breaks everything down state-by-state. Further, earnings from these new jobs are far greater than from jobs lost.

    As mentioned in another comment, converting would also eliminate 62,000 (19,000–115,000) U.S. air pollution premature mortalities per year today and 46,000 (12,000–104,000) in 2050, avoiding $600 ($85–$2400) billion per year (2013 dollars) in 2050, equivalent to 3.6 (0.5–14.3) percent of the 2014 U.S. gross domestic product. Converting would further eliminate $3.3 (1.9–7.1) trillion per year in 2050 global warming costs to the world due to U.S. emissions. These plans will result in each person in the U.S. in 2050 saving $260 (190–320) per year in energy costs ($2013 dollars) and U.S. health and global climate costs per person decreasing by $1500 (210–6000) per year and $8300 (4700–17 600) per year, respectively.

    The peer-reviewed science shows huge energy, health, and climate cost savings, plus major job gains from conversion to clean, renewable energy for all purposes. Thus, your arguments about economic downsides are the “misinformation” and “pure fantasy”. It’s ironic, given the title of your post.

    This parallel grid integration study to the U.S. roadmap shows the U.S. can transition to 100% wind, water, and solar in all-sectors, and the system will be completely reliable and low-cost relative to business-as-usual. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CombiningRenew/CONUSGridIntegration.pdf). I doubt all the coauthors and reviewers believe in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. Dr. Hansen has no experience studying highly renewable systems so he’s not qualified to deny the science and just guess what is or isn’t possible. That said, it’s a safe bet he’d despise the fact you’re quoting him.

    Reply

    • rbradley  

      A key point against the Jacobson analysis is that it is a hypothetical about the benefits of a government-planned, forced energy transformation. Consumers do not want even a tiny fraction of what the study makes a case for 100% of (off-grid solar is the exception–it is free-market energy).

      Central planning of economic orders was refuted a long time ago. Studies of what might happen under a set of assumptions in government-planning land cannot render the verdict of consumer driven choices. F. A. Hayek’s ‘the use of knowledge in society’ is a good place to start to under the real economic problem versus engineering approaches to control an economy.

      Reply

      • Michael P Totten  

        RBradley, let’s keep clearly in mind that central planning of the energy sector, especially the utility sector, has been going on for a century. The lock-in of monopoly utilities with guaranteed 12% returns on investment incentivized a technology/financing path-dependence of large-scale hydro, and fossil and nuclear thermal power plants. Regulators, far too often crony appointees, allowed utilities to pass-through to customers the volatile swings of fuel costs, capital work in progress costs, water requirements, while largely ignoring the unmonetized, unregulated externality costs of emissions, air pollutants, waste contaminants and toxic chemicals. With the phenomenal acceleration of technical advancements in solid-state electronics and space age materials there emerged an immense pool of end-use efficiency/productivity gains in all the energy-consuming devices, appliances, electric motors and industrial drive equipment, lights, buildings, etc. that presented utilities with a way of delivering energy services to the point of use at 5 to 15 times less cost (based on Levelized Cost of Electricity, LCOE) than any supply option. But the utility regulators ignored this more competitive market opportunity (and still do in more than 40 states nationwide). Similarly with wind and solar power, because these options require no fuel input, 95% less water than thermal plants, and release no emissions, pollutants or contaminants during generation, these options have significantly lower lifespan risks and price volatility, which these same regulators totally ignore as competitive advantages. Despite fierce resistance at the federal level (e.g., as the Congressional Research Service of the U.S. Congress reports, for every $1 received by wind or $1 received by solar power, fossil and nuclear resources received 10-fold more federal subsidies over most of the past half century), utiity-scale wind and solar power have progressed spectacularly over the past decade and both offer LCOEs lower than fossil or nuclear. This can be seen in the annual review of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). According to the 2015 reports of 2014 data, solar PV PPAs have declined by more than 2/3rd’s since 2009, with projects in Texas, New Mexico and Nevada coming in at 4 cents/kWh LCOE. Wind is even more competitive, with LCOEs averaging 2.5 cents/kWh in good wind sites. This is more competitive than natural gas even with ultra-low fuel costs, and several-fold lower than new nuclear power plants. Efficiency/productivity gains are even more competitive, ranging from 0 to several cents/kWh LCOE, while the pool of opportunities is expanding rapidly as a result of what GE calls the Internet of Industry, integrating wireless smart sensor networks, powerful building analytics and recommendation/action algorithms, using big data, connected through IPv6 addressability, offering a revolution in displacing 80% of energy through intelligence in new buildings and factories (as one of the largest IT companies in the world, InfoSys, is now offering as a “green infrastructures” service). So, one would hope you would apply your love of markets over central government control to getting the crony regulators replaced with regulators who favor opening the utility market to these superior ways of delivering energy services. Instead of attacking Jacobson, Delucchi et al for revealing these massive opportunities, you should be taking advantage of these robust market opportunities.

        Reply

        • rbradley  

          Electric power should have never been regulated as a public utility, as I explain in Edison to Enron (2011). That said, consumers have and will choose fossil fuels over dilute, intermittent wind and solar as they have for more than a century.

          Natural gas, coal, and oil are the sun’s work over the eons of time and contain their own storage — wind and solar and other so-called renewables may compete, but it will be in a future century and in a form that is far different from what is offered today.

          Reply

        • Willem Post  

          Mike,
          Wind and solar energy cannot exist without the other generators and storage, so it does not matter how cheap it is.
          Only CSP with at least 10 hours of storage can operate continuously, as required by a modern society.
          That means the US southwest would need at least 10,000 square miles of CSP plants with 10 hours of storage.
          If each plant were 200 MW, about 3 square miles would be required.
          10,000 square miles would be sufficient for about 3000 such plants.
          They would have a capacity factor of about 0.55
          Production about 3000 x 200 x 8760 x 0.55 = …….. MWh/y
          That would provide about 50% of future US electrical energy, plus peaking, filling-in and balancing of any wind energy in the Great Plains, which needs to be at least 65% of US energy needs, to provide a cushion, in case of insufficient wind.
          Production about 300,000 x 3 x 8760 x 0.35 =…………. MWh/y
          All of this would need to be connected to a nationwide HVDC grid.

          Reply

    • rbradley  

      Matthew:

      Did Mark Jacobson deceive you? http://energyindepth.org/national/stanford-professor-deletes-data-job-loss-renewables/

      I would want a full explanation from him.

      Reply

  8. Ray  

    Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi published an article in the November 2009 issue of Scientific American titled “A Path to Sustainable Energy.” My first thought was, this must be a spoof. It is very easy to show how to power the US with renewable energy if you ignore the implementation problems and assume ridiculously low costs for producing the energy. So how do you power the US with renewable energy? According to Jacobson you just need 490,000 tidal turbines, 5,350 geothermal plants, 900 hydroelectric plants, 3,800,000 5-MW wind turbines, 720,000 wave converters, 1,700,000,000 3-kW solar PV systems, 49,000 concentrated solar power plants, and 40,000 300-MW solar PV power plants.

    Reply

  9. Steve  

    Steve Everley is the mouthpiece of Big Gas. Count on him for the best in deception and subterfuge. Love you, Steve. Keep trying. That’s why they pay you. We know better.

    Reply

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