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How 139 Countries Could Be Powered by 100% Wind, Water, and Solar Energy by 2050

The latest roadmap to a 100 percent renewable energy future has been set by Stanford University’s Mark Z. Jacobson, University of California Berkeley’s Mark Delucchi and 25 colleagues in a new paper in Joule, and it is the most specific global vision yet.

The paper outlines infrastructure changes that 139 countries can make to be entirely powered by wind, water, and sunlight by 2050 after electrification of all energy sectors. Such a transition could mean less worldwide energy consumption due to the efficiency of clean, renewable electricity; a net increase of over 24 million long-term jobs; an annual decrease in 4–7 million air pollution deaths per year; stabilization of energy prices; and annual savings of over $20 trillion in health and climate costs.

The work is in the Aug. 23, 2017 edition of the journal Joule, Cell Press’s new publication focused on sustainable energy.

 “It appears we can achieve the enormous social benefits of a zero-emission energy system at essentially no extra cost,” says co-author Mark Delucchi, a research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Berkeley. “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 challenge of moving the world toward a low-carbon future in time to avoid exacerbating global warming and to create energy self-sufficient countries is one of the greatest of our time. The roadmaps developed by Jacobson, Delucchi et al. provide one possible endpoint.

For each of the 139 nations, they assess the raw renewable energy resources available to each country, the number of wind, water, and solar energy generators needed to be 80% renewable by 2030 and 100% by 2050, how much land and rooftop area these power sources would require (only around 1% of total available, with most of this open space between wind turbines that can be used for multiple purposes), and how this approach would reduce energy demand and cost compared with a business-as-usual scenario. 

“Both individuals and governments can lead this change. Policymakers 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,” says Jacobson, director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program and co-founder of the Solutions Project, a U.S. non-profit educating the public and policymakers about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.

“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 analyses specifically examined each country’s electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industrial, and agriculture/forestry/fishing sectors. Of the 139 countries—selected because they were countries for which data were publically available from the International Energy Agency and collectively emit over 99% of all carbon dioxide worldwide—the places the study showed that had a greater share of land per population (e.g., the United States, China, the European Union) are projected to have the easiest time making the transition to 100% wind, water, and solar.

Another finding was that the most difficult places to transition may be highly populated,very small countries surrounded by lots of ocean, such as Singapore, which may require an investment in offshore solar to convert fully.

As a result of a transition, the roadmaps predict a number of collateral benefits: by eliminating oil, gas, and uranium use, the energy associated with mining, transporting and refining these fuels is also eliminated, reducing international power demand by around 13% — and because electricity is more efficient than burning fossil fuels, demand should go down another 23%; changes in infrastructure would also mean countries wouldn’t need to depend on one another for fossil fuels, reducing the frequency of international conflict over energy; and communities currently living in energy deserts would have access to abundant clean, renewable power.

“Aside from eliminating emissions and avoiding 1.5° C global warming and beginning the process of letting carbon dioxide drain from the Earth’s atmosphere, transitioning eliminates 4–7 million air pollution deaths each year and creates over 24 million long-term, full-time jobs by these plans,” Jacobson says. “What is different between this study and other studies that have proposed solutions is that we are trying to examine not only the climate benefits of reducing carbon but also the air pollution benefits, job benefits, and cost benefits.”

The Joule paper is an expansion of 2015 roadmaps to transition each of the 50 United States to 100% clean, renewable energy and an analysis of whether the electric grid can stay stable upon such a transition. Not only does this new study cover nearly the entire world, there are also improved calculations on the availability of rooftop solar energy, renewable energy resources, and jobs created versus lost. Although the Jacobson, Delucchi et al. energy plans have been criticized by some for focusing only on wind, water, and solar energy and excluding nuclear power, “clean coal,” and biofuels, Delucchi points out that their objective was to quantify the impacts and costs of the options that provide the greatest environmental benefits with the least risk and uncertainty, and that nuclear, “clean coal,” and biofuels are riskier, more uncertain, and less sustainable than are wind, water, and solar power.

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Joule, Jacobson et al.: “100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) AllSector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World” http://www.cell.com/joule/fulltext/S2542-4351(17)30012-0

Author Contact:

Mark Z. Jacobson Stanford University 650-468-1599 jacobson@stanford.edu

Mark A. Delucchi University of California at Berkeley 510-356-4822 madelucchi@berkeley.edu