It’s been widely agreed that the best way to combat climate change is to convert the world to renewable energy. President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement defies any kind of commitment to that task, agreed on by almost 200 nations, and puts a real spanner in the renewable energy works. We never said it was going to be easy, but switching to renewables to drastically cut emissions is something we really have to do, given the very urgent need to keep warming below 2 degrees. We’re out of options, and scientists have actually now proven that the clean energy route is doable and it’s possible for the U.S. to go 100 percent fossil fuel free by 2050.
The study, carried out by Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford and U.C. Berkeley researcher, Mark Delucchi, outlines a way in which each of the 50 states can individually make the transition by 2050. Considering the energy demands within each sector of every state, and how those demands will change in the coming years, the study determines just how much electric energy would be needed to service everybody.
The solution they came up with would mean converting all energy into electrical – that means cars, homes and industries would need to convert to electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectric sources. The report is also careful to consider what energy sources are available to each state, for example, by considering how many south-facing homes are able to accommodate solar panels, or whether offshore wind turbines might be an option. Of course for some states, like Washington, which already gains 70 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric sources, this would be a simpler transition than others.
Putting all of these factors on the table, researchers determined that, across the 50 states, it would be possible to reduce end-use power by 39 percent by the year 2050. With 6 percent of this reduction simply down to efficiency improvements, and the rest from replacing combustion with renewables. The plan would be quite uninvasive too, since it requires less that 0.5 percent of a state’s land for wind or solar, and doesn’t call for any more hydroelectric dams to be built, existing dams would just be optimized.
Surely an attempt to convert to clean energy on such a large-scale would be incredibly costly though? Well sure, but think about switching to solar in your home, the upfront costs are high, but from there, energy from the sun is free. Balance upfront costs with long term savings and consider the costs of producing fossil fuels, and the price margin between converting to clean energy and using fossil fuels over time largely balance out. Further to that, there’s a lot of evidence showing that renewable energy will actually benefit the U.S. economy, creating jobs, energy savings and stabilizing fuel prices.
But economic costs are not the only thing at stake. The environmental cost of using fossil fuels is of course far greater than the price of making the switch. Continuing to use polluting, carbon-rich energy will have an alarming effect on people, wildlife and the planet. But just by reducing air pollution alone we could stop the 63,000 American deaths that are related to air pollution every year.
As Jacobson who conducted the 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. By showing that it’s technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large scale transformation”. So there you have it, change is possible and now we feel more motivated than ever!