How The World Can Go 100% Renewable By 2050 – And Save Money

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Originally published on RenewEconomy.

On the eve of the Paris climate conference, a new analysis from Stanford University has laid out a roadmap for 139 countries to power their economies with solar, wind, and hydro energy by 2050.

The idea of net zero emissions, or a decarbonised economy, is being openly discussed at the Paris conference, even by Australia, with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull talking (but not yet acting) of a push to zero carbon energy, and Labor putting it into their policy modelling. The Greens are pushing for 90 per cent renewables by 2030.

For most however, zero carbon means including carbon capture and storage and nuclear, or offsets from forestry, land use and other sequestration. Some, though, are talking of meeting that talking with 100 per cent renewable energy only.

The Stanford study focuses on what is has dubbed “WWS” – wind, water and sunlight. And it includes not just electricity but transportation, heating and cooling, industry, and agriculture, forestry and fishing.

It says the world can reach 80 per cent “WWS” by 2030, which puts the Greens target for 90 per cent renewable energy for electricity only for Australia by the same date in a different perspective.


The roadmap outlines numerous benefits – millions of jobs, no impact on economic growth – and total savings from fuel costs, environment and climate damage of nearly $US5,000 a year.

The Stanford study estimates that it will save each person in the 139 countries an average of $170 a year on fuel costs, and $2,880 a year in air-pollution-damage cost and $US1,930/person/year in climate costs (2013 dollars).

They have even broken now the equipment and installations needed into each country. It appears eye watering, but Stanford says the land use requirements are minimal – just 0.29 per cent of the land area, mostly for solar PV, not including reclaimed fossil fuel plants.

Their plan, under one generalised scenario, would require:

  •  496,900 50-MW utility-scale solar-PV power plants (providing the most power, 42..2% of the 139-country power for all purposes).
  • 1.17 million new onshore 5-MW wind turbines (19.4%).
  • 762,000 off-shore 5-MW wind turbines (12.9%)
  • 15,400 100-MW utility-scale CSP power plants with storage (7.7%).
  • 653 million 5-kW residential rooftop PV systems (5.6%).
  • 35.3 million 100-kW commercial/government rooftop systems (6.0%).
  • 840 100- MW geothermal plants (0.74%).
  • 496,000 0.75-MW wave devices (0.72%).
  • 32,100 1-MW tidal turbines (0.07%)
  • Zero new hydropower plants. (Stanford says the capacity factor of existing hydropower plants will increase slightly so that hydropower supplies 4.8% of all-purpose power).
  • Another estimated 9,300 100-MW CSP plants with storage and 99,400 50-MW solar thermal collectors for heat generation and storage will be needed to help stabilize the grid.

Energy efficiency and changing industrial practises will be important. The average end use load will fall 39.2 per cent, with 82 per cent of this fall due to electrification and eliminating the need for mining, transport, and refining of conventional fuels.

The cost reductions come from the fact that that levellised costs of electricity for hydropower, onshore wind, utility-scale solar, and solar thermal for heat is already similar to or less than natural gas combined-cycle power plants.

And as the LCOE for rooftop PV, offshore wind, tidal, and wave energy fall below conventional fuels in coming years and decades.

Stanford says the major benefits of a conversion to WWS are the near-elimination of air pollution morbidity and mortality and global warming, net job creation, energy-price stability, reduced international conflict over energy because each country will be energy independent.

It will bring power 4 billion people worldwide who currently collect their own energy and burn it, and reduced risks of large-scale system disruptions because much of the world power supply will be decentralized.

“Finally, the aggressive worldwide conversion to WWS proposed here will avoid exploding levels of CO2 and catastrophic climate change.”

Reprinted with permission.

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Giles Parkinson

is the founding editor of, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

Giles Parkinson has 596 posts and counting. See all posts by Giles Parkinson