Many of the world’s greatest challenges are caused by burning fossil fuels. In addition to increasing climate volatility, the pollution created from burning fossil fuels kills millions of people every year, disproportionately affecting poor communities, and costing billions in health care and productivity loss.
Do we have another choice?
At Stanford, we wanted to find out. Together with the University of California at Berkeley, we worked with a team of 29 students and experts from around the world in engineering, transportation, renewable energy and economics, to analyze if it would be possible for 50 U.S. states and another 139 countries to be powered by 100% clean, renewable energy, and if so how could it be achieved and what the benefits might be.
Using advanced computing methodologies we discovered that it is in fact possible with currently existing wind, water, and solar (WWS) technologies to transition 139 countries and all 50 United States to 80% clean, renewable energy for all purposes by 2030 and 100% by 2050. This covers all energy needs – electricity, transportation, heating & cooling, industry, and food production.
And the benefits are widespread. If the world moves to 100% wind, water and solar, it would:
Eliminate of 4.6 million premature deaths caused by air pollution per year worldwide, with about 3.5 million premature annual deaths prevented by 2050.
Save $22.8 trillion in annual health costs by 2050 globally. That translates to 12.6 cents per kWh of electricity in health-cost savings.
Prevent more than 60,000 premature deaths per year in the United States alone, saving 3% of U.S. GDP.
Save the U.S. an average of $1,500 per person in health costs and $8,300 per person in health and climate costs each year.
Create a net gain of 16.8 million long-term jobs worldwide, with over 2 million additional jobs in the U.S. alone.
Stabilize global energy prices by eliminating the market volatility associated with mining and drilling for coal, oil and natural gas.
Reduce the potential for international conflict by creating energy-independent economies and eliminating high profile terrorist targets, such as oil refineries and centralized power infrastructure.
Reduce the social cost of our global energy supply by 60%. While the costs of maintaining a 100% renewable energy grid are similar to a conventional energy network, the external costs on the environment and human health are significantly lower.
Reduce $26.9 trillion per year in projected climate mitigation and adaptation costs by 2050. 100% conversion in the U.S. alone will eliminate $3.3 trillion per year in climate costs.
Enhancements to the energy grid would be required long with better energy storage, but these investments would be much less costly than people think. The natural complementarity between solar and wind power (sun shines brightest during the day, wind blows hardest in the evening) means that the demand for energy can be met largely by being smart about moving electrons across the grid. This means the world can transition to 100% clean, renewable energy much faster and more efficiently than anyone had previously imagined. 100% by 2050 is not only possible, it is the only moral choice we have.