There are many things holding up the US’s move towards renewable energy, but that one thing is not science: We already have all the technology we need to make this happen. A new study claims that a completely clean energy future is possible by 2050, and it plots roadmaps for all 50 states to achieve this goal.
The study, which is published in Energy & Environmental Science, is authored by Mark Z. Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineer who heads up Stanford’s Atmosphere and Energy Program. He’s known for publishing many similar roadmaps for America’s energy future, but this one is the most comprehensive — and useful — because it takes into consideration the unique environmental situations and policy quirks for each state.
Most enticing is this chart where incredible growth in solar and wind energy helps offset the gradual reduction in fossil fuels and nuclear energy. But the overall energy supply needed will also decrease, even with increased demand, due to better energy efficiency.
In that black zone that gets squeezed out: Nuclear power, coal with carbon capture, liquid or solid biofuels, and natural gas. Nope, not even biofuels, argues the study — since “their combustion produces air pollution at rates on the same order as fossil fuels and their lifecycle carbon emissions are highly uncertain.”
The study also proposes appropriate clean technologies for each energy-sucking action in our everyday lives. Vehicular transportation, for example, will rely on hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, while a combination of batteries paired with electrolytic cryogenic hydrogen will power planes. Heating and cooling for air and water in our homes will be provided by electric heat pumps with some solar pre-heating for water (where climate-appropriate). Everyone will have induction ranges for cooking.
While the political benefits are very obvious (no more going to war for oil) it’s not just energy security that the US will gain from this process: The study estimates that moving towards a completely renewable grid will create 3.9 million construction jobs and 2.0 million operation jobs (hopefully a few of those will be the 3.9 million people in conventional energy who will lose their jobs). And the country will also be healthier, since switching away from fossil fuels will help prevent approximately 46,000 premature deaths per year due to air pollution, saving the US billions in health care costs. The average US citizen would personally save about $US260 per year in energy costs (that’s 2013 dollars).
Some of the downsides to this future are addressed in the study, but to be honest there aren’t many: Land-use will have to change dramatically to accommodate all this new energy infrastructure and very large initial investments must be made on behalf of the American public. But the study is essentially correct in its conclusion that a 100 per cent clean energy future is “technically and economically feasible.” Each state’s leadership should take a close look at its roadmap and at least try to explain to its citizens why it’s not happening yet.