Why Clean Power Beats Dirty Power

How's this for an eye-catching headline?

Wind, Water And Sun Beat Biofuels, Nuclear And Coal For Clean Energy

That comes from a story published today in ScienceDaily, which opens with this unequivocal sentence:

"The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants."

'Nuff said.  But the entire article is well worth the read.  It profiles the work of Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford.  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 key finding:  The energy options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.

(Let the record show that Jacobson received absolutely no funding from any interest group, company or government agency for his research.)

According to Jacobson, we should avoid dirty energy sources and focus on the most promising -- not to mention readily available and affordable -- clean energy alternatives including wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal.

According to Jacobson's calculations, these are the best to worst electric power sources:

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

The article notes that during the recent presidential campaign, nuclear power and the misleadingly named 'clean coal' were often touted as energy solutions that should be pursued, but nuclear power and coal (even with carbon capture and sequestration) were among Jacobson's lowest-ranked choices. 

As the article quotes him:

"There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession.  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."

Bravo, Dr. Jacobson, for your well-executed and timely research.