The US Could Reliably Run On Clean Energy By 2050

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Popular Science: The Biden administration has pledged to create a carbon-free energy sector by 2035, but because renewable resources generate only around 19 percent of US electricity as of 2020, climate experts warn that our transition to a green grid future needs to speed up. A group of researchers at Stanford led by Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has set out to prove that a 100 percent renewable energy grid by 2050 is not only feasible but can be done without any blackouts and at a lower cost than the existing grid. Jacobson is the lead author of a new paper, published in Renewable Energy, which argues that a complete transition to renewable energy -- defined as wind, water, and solar energy -- would benefit the US as a whole and individuals by saving costs, creating jobs, and reducing air pollution and carbon emissions. They modeled how wind turbines, tidal turbines, geothermal and hydroelectric power plants, rooftop and utility photovoltaic panels, and other sources could generate energy in 2050. A host of different sources powered these projections: Jacobson used data from a weather-climate-air pollution model he first built in 1990, which has been used in numerous simulations since. Individual state and sector energy consumption was taken from the Energy Information Administration. Current fossil fuel energy sources were converted to electric devices that are powered by wind, water, and solar. This was then used to create projections for energy use in 2050. Time-dependent energy supply was matched with demand and storage in a grid integration model for every 30 second interval in 2050 and 2051. The study authors analyzed US regions and countrywide demand until the model produced a solution with what the authors called zero-load loss -- meaning, essentially, no blackouts with 100 percent renewable energy and storage. According to Jacobson, no other study is conducting this kind of modeling, which is unique in part because it checks conditions for any simulation every 30 seconds. As the cost of renewables falls, researchers predict power companies and consumers will migrate to using renewables. Solar and wind are already half the cost of natural gas. Policy may also motivate adoption -- or hinder it. While the current administration has set out goals for a renewable energy grid, new permits for gas and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico counteract those same efforts. [...] The researchers quantified these benefits by looking at private costs, such as those to individuals or corporations, and social ones, which also include health and climate costs. Zero-emissions leads to few air pollution related deaths and illness, and a reduced toll on the healthcare system. [...] The model cannot address emissions from things like long-distance shipping or aviation, though the authors argue that green hydrogen could be a possible alternative to explore. They did not include nuclear energy or carbon capture, which [Anna-Katharina von Krauland, a PhD candidate in the Atmosphere/Energy program at Stanford and a co-author of the paper] views as "distractions from getting to 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as possible" because the technologies are costly, unproven, or lacking in their promises. "The best path forward would be to invest in what we know works as quickly as we can," she says -- such as wind, water, and solar energy.

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