How exactly would the US go about switching to 100% renewable energy by the year 2050? What actions would need to be taken in the national and on the state levels?
A new study from researchers at several top universities in the US recently set out to answer these questions — providing the first state-by-state outline of how the transition could be achieved by 2050. These 50 individual state plans are, as you can probably guess, quite aggressive — calling for big changes in both infrastructure and energy consumption patterns. According to the research, though, it should be noted, the transition is absolutely a feasible one (technically + economically) — with the use of only existing technologies, no further technological “breakthroughs” are needed.
“The main barriers are social, political and getting industries to change. One way to overcome the barriers is to inform people about what is possible,” stated researcher Mark Z Jacobson, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy. “By showing that it’s technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large-scale transformation.”
The outline was put together after the researchers first investigated in depth the current energy needs of all 50 states — and, also, how those factors would change by 2050, assuming business-as-usual continues. These needs were split amongst four categories — commercial ones, industrial ones, residential ones, and transportation-related ones.
These categories were all analyzed with regard to current quantity + source of energy use. The step was then taken to estimate potential energy demands if all fuel demands were switched over to electricity.
“This is a significantly challenging step – it assumes that all the cars on the road become electric, and that homes and industry convert to fully electrified heating and cooling systems. But Jacobson said that their calculations were based on integrating existing technology, and the energy savings would be significant.”
“When we did this across all 50 states, we saw a 39% reduction in total end-use power demand by the year 2050,” Jacobson stated. “About 6% points of that is gained through efficiency improvements to infrastructure, but the bulk is the result of replacing current sources and uses of combustion energy with electricity.”
Here’s some more information via a recent press release that Jacobson shared with CleanTechnica:
The next step involved figuring out how to power the new electric grid. The researchers focused on meeting each state’s new power demands using only the renewable energies – wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and tiny amounts of tidal and wave – available to each state.
They analyzed each state’s sun exposure, and how many south-facing, non-shaded rooftops could accommodate solar panels. They developed and consulted wind maps and determined whether local offshore wind turbines were an option. Geothermal energy was available at a reasonable cost for only 13 states. The plan calls for virtually no new hydroelectric dams, but does account for energy gains from improving the efficiency of existing dams.
The report lays out individual roadmaps for each state to achieve an 80% transition by 2030, and a full conversion by 2050. Jacobson said that several states are already on their way. The plan calls for no more than 0.5% of any state’s land to be covered in solar panels or wind turbines. The upfront cost of the changes would be significant, but wind and sunlight are free. So the overall cost spread over time would be roughly equal to the price of the fossil fuel infrastructure, maintenance and production.
“When you account for the health and climate costs – as well as the rising price of fossil fuels – wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems,” Jacobson stated. “A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science.”
If the researchers’ plans are followed to the T, then reduced air pollution would result in the prevention of around 63,000 deaths a year (according to the researchers). Needless to say, greenhouse gas emissions would also be greatly curtailed (in the US, at any rate).
The new study was published in the online edition of Energy and Environmental Sciences. Those looking for a faster overview than is offered via that article can find one via an interactive map here.
Image via Stanford study
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