100% energy requirements from renewables

As the world prepares for the COP21 (Conference of the Parties) gathering in Paris in December 2015 for what has been dubbed a landmark climate summit, a new analysis  from Stanford University and University of California researchers laid out roadmaps for 139 countries, including the world’s major greenhouse gas emitters, to switch to 100% clean, renewable energy  generated from wind, water and sunlight for all purposes by 2050.

Mark Z. Jacobson, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University and director of the school’s Atmosphere/Energy Program, said the roadmaps would give negotiators and leaders confidence that they can meet energy demands in all energy sectors — including electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, industry and agriculture — with clean energy sources.

The main barriers to getting to 100 percent clean energy are social and political, not technical or economic,” Jacobson told members of the U.S. Congress and ambassadors from countries participating in the negotiations during a forum in Washington, DC.

All the roadmaps are available via an embeddable collection of interactive maps on The Solutions Project’s website.

Jacobson and his colleagues found that future costs for producing clean energy are similar to a business-as-usual scenario of about 11 cents per kilowatt hour, similar to the average cost in America today. The air pollution and climate costs due to fossil fuels, however, are virtually eliminated by cleanenergy technologies.

Overall, the analysis found, the business, health, plus climate costs of a 100 percent clean and renewable energy system were more than 60 percent lower than those of a business-as-usual system.

Switching to 100 percent clean energy would prevent four to seven million premature deaths each year globally from pollution associated with fossil fuels. By comparison, about six million people die prematurely each year from smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Globally, the transition to clean, renewable energy would create more than 20 million more jobs than would be lost in the transition. It would also stabilise energy costs, thanks to free fuels such as wind, water and the sun; reduce terrorism  risk by distributing electricity generation; and eliminate the overwhelming majority of heat-trapping emissions that contribute to climate change.

The researchers also calculated that just 0.3 percent of the world’s land footprint would have to be devoted to energy production under a 100 percent clean energy scenario. That is less than the size of Madagascar.

Jacobson and his colleagues were also slated to publish a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  on 23 November 2015 which examines how to achieve reliability under a 100 percent clean energy scenario for the U.S.

The countries in the roadmap include the world’s major emitters, and were selected based on available International Energy Agency data. Last week, the IEA’s energy outlook  concluded for the first time that renewables are already set to outpace coal  as the world’s leading source of electricity.

The past few years have seen dramatic increases in the growth of renewable energy,” Jacobson said. “Countries can ramp that up even faster and enjoy a host of economic and health benefits by doing so.”

Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi have spelled out how 139 countries can each generate all the energy they need for homes, businesses, industry, transportation, agriculture everything else from wind, solar and water power technologies, by 2050. Their national blueprints, follow similar plans they have published  in the past few years to run each of the 50 U.S. states on renewables, as well as the entire world. (Have a look for yourself, at your country, using the interactive map on this site.)

The plans, which list exact numbers of wind turbines, solar farms, hydroelectric dams and such, have been heralded as transformational, and criticised as starry eyed or even nutty.

Determined, Jacobson  will take his case to leaders of the 195 nations that will meet at the U.N. climate talk, known as COP 21, which begin in Paris on 29 November 2015. His point to them: Although international agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are worthwhile, they would not even be needed if countries switched wholesale to renewable energy, ending the combustion of coal, natural gas and oil that creates the vast majority of those emissions, and without any nuclear power.

The people there are just not aware of what’s possible,” says Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University and director of the school’s Atmosphere and Energy Program. He is already scheduled to speak twice at the meeting, and will spend the rest of his time trying to talk one on one with national leaders and their aides.

Jacobson thinks the 139 national plans will get traction not only because they offer a path to lower emissions, but because in total, they would create 24 million construction jobs and 26.5 million operational jobs, all spanning 35 years, offsetting 28.4 million jobs lost in the fossil fuel industries. That would leave a net gain of about 22 million jobs. Going 100 percent renewable would also prevent 3.3 to 4.6 million premature deaths a year through 2050 that would have happened because of air pollution from those fossil fuels. “These numbers are what gets people’s attention,” Jacobson says.

Jacobson and Delucchi, a research scientist at the University of California at Davis, presented their “100 percent renewables” construct to the public for the first time in a 2009 feature article  in Scientific American. It explained how the world could derive all of its power, including for transportation, from 1.7 billion rooftop solar systems, 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, 3.8 million wind turbines, 900 hydroelectric plants, 490,000 tidal turbines and so on.

The whole idea originated with the Scientific American  article,” Jacobson says. “Now there are five or six non-profit organisations that use ‘100 percent’ in their name. Walmart, Google and Starbucks have said they want to go to 100 percent renewable energy. So have a number of cities. The goal of our plans for U.S. states and the 139 countries is to have places set their own ‘100 percent’ goals.”

Energy demand across the 139 nations by 2050 would be met with a broad set of wind, water and solar technologies: 19.4 percent onshore wind farms, 12.9 percent offshore wind farms, 42.2 percent utility-scale photovoltaic arrays, 5.6 percent rooftop solar panels, 6.0 percent commercial rooftop solar panels, 7.7 percent concentrated solar power arrays, 4.8 percent hydroelectricity, and 1.47 percent geothermal, wave and tidal power.

Jacobson, Delucchi and more than a dozen colleagues from around the world have posted the details, country by country, in a self-published paper they released online (You can download it using the link at the end of this article). Hoping to make it available for COP, they have yet to publish it in a journal, but they intend to in 2016, Jacobson says. The previous plans have all been published.

The big knock against renewables such as wind and solar is that they are intermittent; the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. That means large amounts of energy storage are needed to save up excess power generated when these technologies are going full bore, which can then be tapped when they are low. Storage adds substantial cost and complexity to a renewable energy system. But Jacobson has an answer. By using a smart mix of technologies that complement one another during different parts of the day and different weather conditions, storage can be kept to a minimum. He, Delucchi and two colleagues explain how this can work across the U.S. in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that will be published on 23 November 2015.

The engineering detail in all these papers and plans  is staggering. The document released for the 139 countries provides an itemized mix of technologies and costs for every nation, as well as how much land and rooftop area would be required. Since 2009 the two researchers, working with many others, have honed the numbers again and again. Now what is needed most, Jacobson says, is exposure. “We have talked to hundreds of expert and politicians. Now we need to reach hundreds of millions of people,” in hopes that they will see the possibilities and begin to call for them.

That's why Jacobson and several high-profile business people and entertainers started the Solutions Project  to educate the public, business owners and policy makers about the roadmaps. Support comes from the Elon Musk Foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and others. “We are tying to find a way to combine business and culture and science to get the information out — to engage, to tell stories,” Jacobson says. He himself scored a spot  on David Letterman’s Late Night show in 2013. He says DiCaprio is planning to visit COP 21 while he is there. “We want to translate the benefits of the plans for people everywhere,” Jacobson says. “That's when good things will happen.”