A new study suggests it’s entirely possible for the U.S. to run on 100% renewable energy in just 35 years. The radical plan outlines what each state needs to do to achieve this ambitious goal. What’s the main barrier to making this happen? Political willpower.
Mark Z. Jacobson, from Stanford University, and his research team outlined the changes in infrastructure and energy consumption that each state has to undergo to achieve this transition to clean energy. Jacobson points out in a statement that it’s “technologically and economically” possible to successfully achieve this “large scale transformation.” Researchers have even created an interactive map that showcases their plans.
The study, published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, first analyzed the current energy demands of each state and then calculated how these demands are likely to change over the next 35 years. They divided energy use into four sectors: residential, commercial, industrial and transportation. For each sector, researchers analyzed the energy consumption and looked at the source of this energy, seeing whether it was coal, oil, gas, nuclear or renewables.
Researchers then calculated the demand for fuel if it was all replaced with electricity. While running literally everything, including cars and home heating, on electricity seems like a daunting task, researchers suggest there would be significant energy savings in using this electric grid.
"When we did this across all 50 states, we saw a 39 percent reduction in total end-use power demand by the year 2050," Jacobson said. "About 6 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."
Jacobson and his team looked carefully at how each state can power this electric grid. For some states, solar was the clear answer, while wind power or geothermal energy makes more sense for others. Overall, researchers looked at how wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and even small amounts of tidal and wave, could contribute to the energy demands.
Using this information, researchers laid out a clear plan for each state to make an 80% transition to renewable energy by 2030, and reach 100% by 2050. The transition is going to be much more achievable for some states than others. Washington, for example, already powers up 70% of electricity from existing hydroelectric sources, and both Iowa and South Dakota generate 30% of their electricity from wind power.
Researchers admit that the initial cost for this transformation would be pretty high, but suggest that over time the overall price would roughly equal the cost to the current fossil fuel infrastructure.
"When you account for the health and climate costs – as well as the rising price of fossil fuels – wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems," Jacobson said. "A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science."