The hope is that the discoveries will provide a nation already rich in renewable energy with an embarrassment of resources with which to pursue the goal of becoming a U.S. of the South.
— Joe Leahy in the Financial Times, March 16, 2011, commenting on the growth of oil in Brazil
One of the fond fantasies of alternative energy advocates is the conceit that oil is unnecessary to prosperity. The economy could be fueled entirely by renewable sources, they say. This conceit found its most extreme expression to date in a cover story in the November 2009 issue of Scientific American. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, and Mark A. Delucchi, laid out a scheme to supply all the world’s energy needs entirely from solar, wind, and water.
Their plan would require the installation of 3.8 million giant wind turbines of 5 MW capacity each, plus plastering at least 500,000 square kilometers (an area larger than California) with billions of photovoltaic cells. Note the complicating footnotes. To build 3.8 million giant wind turbines means completing 520 every day for 20 years. (When we are talking “Giant wind turbines,” that is “Giant” with a capital “G,” as the turbines would have blades 100 meters across—roughly the length of a football field.) Jacobson and Delucchi acknowledge that their plan would cost at least $100 trillion. Critics contend that it would ...