Stanford engineers have outlined a state-by-state plan that could transition the United States to having 100% renewable energy by 2050.
To do so would require aggressive changes to both infrastructure and the ways energy is consumed, but it is technically possible using existing technology, the new study says.
“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,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.
“By showing that it’s technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large scale transformation.”
The study is published in the online edition of Energy and Environmental Sciences. An interactive map summarising the plans for each state is available at http://www.thesolutionsproject.org.
Jacobson and his colleagues first assessed current energy demands of each state, and how those demands would change under business-as-usual conditions by the year 2050.
They analysed the current amount and source of the fuel consumed – coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewables – and calculated the fuel demands if all fuel usage were replaced with electricity.
That assumed 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 said. “About six percentage 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.”
The next step involved figuring out how to provide the electricity demands using only wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and tiny amounts of tidal and wave available to each state.
As a result, they produce individual roadmaps for each state to achieve an 80% transition by 2030, and a full conversion by 2050.
Jacobson said several states, such as Washington, are already on their way and others, such as Iowa and South Dakota, are also well-positioned, as they already generate nearly 30 percent of their electricity from wind power.
California has already adopted some of his group’s suggestions and has a plan to be 60% electrified by renewables by 2030
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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