100% RENEWABLE BY 2050

100% RENEWABLE BY 2050

Scientists recently published a detailed road map to move 139 countries to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, according to a recent study, conducted by energy experts at Stanford University. They reported that using wind, solar, geothermal and water (hydropower, tidal and wave) energy to electrify all economic sectors that need power to operate — including the electric grid itself, transportation, heating and cooling, industrial, and the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries — would significantly reduce energy consumption, decrease deaths from air pollution, create millions of jobs, stabilize energy prices and save trillions of dollars on health care and climate-related costs. The study was published in the journal Joule.

“We have individual plans for each of the 139 countries, and these represent more than 99 percent of all of the emissions worldwide,” Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy program, told Live Science.

The study looked at the world’s energy needs, beginning with 2012 and projecting out to 2050. In 2012, the world used 12.105 terawatts (TW) of energy, which is equal to 12.105 trillion watts. By 2050, the world will need 20.604 TW if nothing changes and every country continues with the same approach it currently uses to meet energy demand, the researchers wrote in the study.

Energy is also needed to mine, refine and transport fossil fuels. As such, switching to 100 percent renewable energy would eliminate these energy-intensive and environmentally destructive processes, the report authors said.

MAPPING A CLEAN FUTURE

In their study, Jacobson and his colleagues show how wind, water, geothermal and solar power can meet the worldwide demand for 11.804 TW of energy while avoiding the predicted global temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2050. The researchers outline how doing so would save the lives of 4 million to 7 million people who might have otherwise died from diseases caused by air pollution, save countries more than $20 trillion overall in health and climate costs, and produce a net increase of more than 24 million long-term jobs.

The study builds on previous work from Jacobson, who began his career as a research scientist trying to understand how air pollution affects the climate. He said that in the early years, he focused on the problems, but by around 1999, he started looking at solutions.

In 2009, Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, published a study in Scientific American that outlined a plan to power the world with 100 percent renewable energy.

The overall cost of transitioning to an infrastructure of 100 percent renewable energy — a plan that sees countries moving first to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 — may, at first glance, seemcost-prohibitive, but Jacobson and his team have crunched those numbers, too.

Jacobson said that, when averaged over all countries, the cost of building renewable energy systems, including storage and transmission, is 8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). In a world that doesn’t do transition and keeps the current fossil-fuel system, the cost is 9.8 cents/kWh.

COSTS FOR THE GREEN FUTURE

Fossil-fuel energy comes with health- and climate-related costs. The authors estimate that by 2050, countries will spend upwards of $28 trillion per year in costs for environmental, property, and human health issues related to global warming, including floods, real-estate destruction, agricultural loss, drought, wildfires, heat stress and stroke, air pollution and more.

And if the world takes no action to address climate change and ice continues to melt at Earth’s poles at the current pace, 7 percent of the world’s coastlines will be underwater, Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the total societal cost of renewable energy — which includes the cost of health and climate issues, as well as the direct cost of energy for wind, water and solar power — is about one-fourth that of fossil fuels.

“In other words, you reduce the total cost to society by about 75 percent,” he said. “The cost benefits of this are huge.”

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