A world fuelled by 100% renewable energy? Maybe in 33 years

According to projections from a research team at Stanford University, renewable energy could be the only source of power by 2050. 

Professor Mark Jacobson and his 26 colleagues have outlined infrastructure alterations which could make 139 countries entirely powered by wind, water and sunlight. 

And it gets even better. The paper suggests this would mean an increase of 24 million long-term jobs, between 4 and 7 million less air-pollution related deaths, stable energy pricing and a likely saving of over $20 trillion US dollars in health and climate costs. 

Professor Jacobson is the director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy program, and co-founder of the Solutions Project, a U.S. non-profit which teaches policymakers and the public about creating a world with clean energy for all. 

He says studies like these are crucial to inspire change.  

“Policy makers don’t usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible, and that is what we are trying to do,” he said. 

“There are other scenarios. We are not saying that there is only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction.”

The in-depth study looks at each country’s electricity, transport, cooling/heating, industrial and agriculture/fishing/forestry sectors of the 139 countries.

Countries such as the United States and China are anticipated to have the easiest time making the transition as they have a greater share of land per population,

Small, highly populate countries which are surrounded by lots of ocean, such as Singapore, may have to invest in offshore solar.

Professor Jacobson suggests the change to 100% renewable energy will reduce international power demand by 13%, and help avoid the potential 1.5 degree Celsius global warming in the nearby future.

It will also sidestep the process of letting carbon dioxide drain from the Earth’s atmosphere, and allow communities living in energy deserts to have access to plentiful clean, renewable power.

The roadmap proposes less international conflict, as countries would not need to depend on others for fossil fuels.

While it all sounds very exciting and promising, the transition would be a huge investment. So how much would it cost?

According to Jacobson, the energy, health and climate cost suggested is only one-fourth of that of the current fossil fuel system.

“In terms of upfront costs, most of these would be needed in any case to replace existing energy, and the rest is an investment that far more than pays itself off over time by nearly eliminating health and climate costs.”

Co-author, Mark Delucci, a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, says the benefits are enormous and it comes at no extra cost.

“Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can.”

The roadmap only includes wind, water and solar energy. Other projections have included nuclear power, ‘clean coal’ and biofuels, why has this roadmap not included these?

Delucci says the study specifically left out these energy sources, as ‘clean coal’ and bio-fuels cause heavy air pollution. Nuclear power has a high cost, risks waste and weapon proliferation, and there is a very long period (0-19 years) between planning and operation. 

For more information on this roadmap, head to http://thesolutionsproject.org/