By Mark Delucchi and Mark Z. Jacobson
The Green New Deal is a proposal to transition the United States entirely to clean, renewable, zero-emission energy in all energy sectors, to promote removal of carbon from the air through natural reforestation and land preservation, and to create jobs. By focusing on renewable energy that is both clean and zero-emission, the Green New Deal reduces, in one fell swoop, energy insecurity due to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, 62,000 deaths and millions more illnesses annually from US energy-related air pollution, and the US’ contribution to global warming.
Critics claim, though, that the Green New Deal is unaffordable and uneconomical and will sink the US into more debt. Having led the research team that developed science-based plans to transition each of the 50 states to 100% wind, water, and solar (WWS) in all energy sectors (electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, and industry), we conclude the opposite is true: the benefits of clean energy systems greatly exceed the costs. 10 other independent research groups similarly find that 100% renewable energy systems are low cost without fossil fuels with carbon capture or nuclear power.
However, a 100% transition of all energy sectors by 2030, while technically and economically possible and desirable, may not occur that fast for social and political reasons. As such, we have consistently proposed a goal of 80% transition by 2030 and 100% no later than 2050 and hopefully earlier. The electricity sector, for example, can transition by 2035. If accomplished worldwide, this goal limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Converting the US energy infrastructure to 100% WWS will reduce both consumer costs and full economic costs (consumer costs plus air-pollution and global-warming costs) and create many more jobs than lost.
Consider consumer costs first. Although a rapid transition of all energy requires a large up-front capital investment — about $9.5 trillion, spread over all years of the transition – this investment will be recovered by electricity sales over the life of the infrastructure. Under no circumstance will the government simply go into debt by $9.5 trillion. The government will set and enforce transition targets in each energy sector, the private sector will make investments, and the system will pay for itself through user charges. This is how it works in Hawaii, California, and Washington DC, which all have laws requiring 100% WWS in the electricity sector by 2045, 2045, and 2032, respectively. The federal government can help hasten the transition by moving subsidies away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, storage, transmission, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and electric high temperature industrial heat technologies, among others.
The consumer cost per unit energy sold in a 100% WWS system will be similar to that in a fossil-fuel world. However, because WWS uses less energy, consumer energy bills in a WWS world will be much lower.
Specifically, a WWS system needs almost 58% less energy than a fossil-fuel system. This is due to the efficiency of electric over fossil-fuel vehicles (reducing energy use in the entire system 20%), the efficiency of electric industrial heaters over fossil-fuel heaters (3% reduction), the efficiency of heat pumps over fossil building heaters (15% reduction), eliminating energy for mining, transporting and processing fossil fuels (13% reduction), and WWS end-use energy efficiency improvements over fossil fuels (7% reduction). So, even though the cost per unit energy is similar, WWS consumers pay at least 50% less – $1 trillion less per year.
But, consumer cost savings are only part of the story. To get the full economic benefit, we must consider air pollution and climate benefits. A WWS energy system eliminates up to $600 billion annually in health costs that occur today due to US air-pollution mortality and illness and $3.3 trillion annually in 2050 world climate damage from US emissions. These enormous benefits are added to the consumer energy cost savings to produce a total economic benefit of $4.9 trillion per year. In other words, whereas a fossil fuel system has a total economic (energy, health, and climate) cost of $5.9 trillion per year, a 100% WWS system costs only $1 trillion per year – an economic savings of 83%!
Thus, the critics of the GND thus have it backwards: not transitioning to a clean energy system is unaffordable and uneconomical.
Turning now to employment, WWS creates 2 million more full-time long-term US jobs than lost and 24 million more worldwide jobs than lost. Thus, clean, renewable energy jobs will more than displace coal, gas, oil, nuclear, and bioenergy job losses.
In sum, transitioning to 100% WWS in all energy sectors dramatically benefits the economy and employment. There is no need for fossil fuels with carbon capture, nuclear power, or bioenergy (aside from digester or landfill methane that is used in a fuel cell to make hydrogen). These technologies are generally more costly than WWS while providing smaller air-pollution, global-warming, energy-security, and job benefits. We cannot afford an “all-of-the-above” policy that wastes money on inferior options. We need specific targets that ensure the cleanest, safest, and most sustainable solution as quickly as possible.
Energy cost data are from Case C of this paper.
Health, climate, and employment data are from here.
Mark A. Delucchi
Senior Research Scientist, Institute of Transportation Studies, U.C. Berkeley