Lately, I've been doing a lot of critical commenting on Jacobson in the climate blogosphere. Whenever someone tries to make some quixotic promotion of solar and wind energy, they almost always trot out one of Jacobson's papers.
I first ran across Jacobson in a comment for a post at the now defunct Skepticblog. I was very unimpressed! His proposals to use hydrogen for storage and transportation made me suspect he had a very superficial understanding of how difficult this would be (since then, he's published this paper, which includes a proposal that all new long haul aircraft, by 2040 be "electrolytic cryogenic hydrogen"!). BTW, one of the most succinct descriptions of the difficulties of using hydrogen I've run across is this one by former Car and Driver columnist, Patrick Bedard.
I've since learned how influential Jacobson actually is. He has an impressive CV and has published a prodigious amount of papers, although most of them are about things like black carbon and atmospheric modeling. His energy papers are a small fraction of his total. They are about using wind, water and sun (WWS) to power everything. He claims his schemes will bring health benefits by resulting in cleaner air and use less energy by increasing efficiency converting many uses to electricity. He's developed quite a following that includes author, Naomi Klein and activist actor, Mark Ruffalo. He's charismatic and appears on a lot of YouTube videos. While he talks mostly wonkish and technical points, he looks a little like actor Jon Hamm from the TV series, Mad Men. He was in a TED debate with over 200 thousand views on YouTube. I've even seen some animated cartoons of him on YouTube, but they seem to have disappeared (this might be a future Canned Comments topic).
There are some blog posts debunking Jacobson's studies on the web. Blair King's A Chemist in Langley is probably the most notable site doing this. He has a recent post about some of Jacobson's health claims. I got the bit I used in my tweet from this post from the blog, The Energy Collective:
The most glaring defect in the entire model is the use of CSP, concentrated solar power, which is a thermal technology used in the desert and not applicable to New York. I would challenge the authors to find any qualified engineers or developers who would certify these types of facilities for NY. The authors call for 387 CSP plants rated at 100 MW each to be built throughout the state.Why does Jacobson take these positions? Blair King seems to thinks he's honest:
Now let’s be clear here. Nothing Dr. Jacobson has done is unethical or scientifically inappropriate. Dr. Jacobson is not trying to trick us in any way. He works hard to makes all his assumptions as transparent as possible which is exactly what we would expect from a good scientist. He then he uses those transparent assumptions to make predictions. This is also the work of a good scientist. The only “problem” with his work is that the assumptions he uses are consistently inconsistent with the scientific consensus. ...
... Ultimately, it would be at the peer-review stage of the work that the peer-reviewers would be expected to ask pointed questions about the choices made in the paper, but even then, as I noted, all the decisions are transparent so the peer reviewers might even let them go. It is up to the reader, therefore, to recognize that many of these assumptions are manifestly ridiculous and that the resultant conclusions are similarly out to lunch. ...
Frankly 100% WWS is a perfect example of caveat emptor in the scientific literature. The only problem is that the majority of the people reading it do not have the expertise to recognize where unexpected/unfamiliar/ridiculous assumptions are being made. Frankly, when I first read the paper I missed a lot of the assumptions as well since my expertise is not in the topic of costs/economics. It was only after I recognized the pattern of decisions that I decided to look more deeply into the choices made in the paper. Only then did I come to realize how badly this paper risks distorting the policy discussion in our country by convincing a bunch of science-blind political activists that there is a better way...I address that issue in my postscript.I highly recommend reading the whole thing. My guess is that Jacobson has a big ego and suffers from a sort of Hayek's fatal conceit that experts from on high can correct major problems in society if given the power.