Could Every Country Have a Green New Deal? Stanford Report Charts Paths for 143 Countries


CHANGCHUN, China, December. 23 2019 /PVTIME/ -- Ten years after the publication of their first plan for powering the world with wind, water, and solar, researchers offer an updated vision of the steps that 143 countries around the world can take to attain 100% clean, renewable energy by the year 2050. The new roadmaps, publishing December 20 in the journal One Earth, follow up on previous work that formed the basis for the energy portion of the U.S. Green New Deal and other state, city, and business commitments to 100% clean, renewable energy around the globe--and use the latest energy data available in each country to offer more precise guidance on how to reach those commitments.

This figure shows a projected timeline for transitioning to 100% wind, water, and solar energy.
Credit: Jacobson et al. / One Earth

In this update, Mark Z. Jacobson (@mzjacobson) of Stanford
University and his team find low-cost, stable grid solutions in 24 world
regions encompassing the 143 countries. They project that transitioning to
clean, renewable energy could reduce worldwide energy needs by 57%, create 28.6
million more jobs than are lost, and reduce energy, health, and climate costs
by 91% compared with a business-as-usual analysis. The new paper makes use of
updated data about how each country's energy use is changing, acknowledges
lower costs and greater availability of renewable energy and storage
technology, includes new countries in its analysis, and accounts for recently
built clean, renewable infrastructure in some countries.

"There are a lot of countries that have committed to
doing something to counteract the growing impacts of global warming, but they
still don't know exactly what to do," says Jacobson, a professor of civil
and environmental engineering at Stanford and the co-founder of the Solutions
Project, a U.S. non-profit educating the public and policymakers about a
transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. "How it would work? How it
would keep the lights on? To be honest, many of the policymakers and advocates
supporting and promoting the Green New Deal don't have a good idea of the
details of what the actual system looks like or what the impact of a transition
is. It's more an abstract concept. So, we're trying to quantify it and to pin
down what one possible system might look like. This work can help fill that
void and give countries guidance."

The roadmaps call for the electrification of all energy sectors,
for increased energy efficiency leading to reduced energy use, and for the
development of wind, water, and solar infrastructure that can supply 80% of all
power by 2030 and 100% of all power by 2050. All energy sectors includes
electricity; transportation; building heating and cooling; industry;
agriculture, forestry, and fishing; and the military. The researchers' modeling
suggests that the efficiency of electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles over
fossil fuel vehicles, of electrified industry over fossil industry, and of
electric heat pumps over fossil heating and cooling, along with the elimination
of energy needed for mining, transporting, and refining fossil fuels, could
substantially decrease overall energy use.

The transition to wind, water, and solar would require an
initial investment of $73 trillion worldwide, but this would pay for itself
over time by energy sales. In addition, clean, renewable energy is cheaper to
generate over time than are fossil fuels, so the investment reduces annual energy
costs significantly. In addition, it reduces air pollution and its health
impacts, and only requires 0.17% of the 143 countries' total land area for new
infrastructure and 0.48% of their total land area for spacing purposes, such as
between wind turbines.

"We find that by electrifying everything with clean,
renewable energy, we reduce power demand by about 57%," Jacobson says.
"So even if the cost per unit of energy is similar, the cost that people
pay in the aggregate for energy is 61% less. And that's before we account for
the social cost, which includes the costs we will save by mitigating health and
climate damage. That's why the Green New Deal is such a good deal. You're
reducing energy costs by 60% and social costs by 91%."

In the U.S., this roadmap--which corresponds to the energy
portion of the Green New Deal, which will eliminate the use of all fossil fuels
for energy in the U.S.--requires an upfront investment of $7.8 trillion. It
calls for the construction of 288,000 new large (5 megawatt) wind turbines and
16,000 large (100 megawatt) solar farms on just 1.08% of U.S. land, with over
85% of that land used for spacing between wind turbines. The spacing land can
double, for instance, as farmland. The plan creates 3.1 million more U.S. jobs
than the business-as-usual case, and saves 63,000 lives from air pollution per
year. It reduces energy, health, and climate costs 1.3, 0.7, and 3.1 trillion
dollars per year, respectively, compared with the current fossil fuel energy

And the transition is already underway. "We have 11
states, in addition to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and a number of
major U.S. cities that have committed to 100% or effectively 100% renewable
electric," Jacobson says. "That means that every time they need new
electricity because a coal plant or gas plant retires, they will only select
among renewable sources to replace them."

He believes that individuals, businesses, and lawmakers all
have an important role to play in achieving this transition. "If I just
wrote this paper and published it and it didn't have a support network of
people who wanted to use this information," he says, "it would just
get lost in the dusty literature. If you want a law passed, you really need the
public to be supportive."

Like any model, this one comes with uncertainties. There
are inconsistencies between datasets on energy supply and demand, and the
findings depend on the ability to model future energy consumption. The model
also assumes the perfect transmission of energy from where it's plentiful to
where it's needed, with no bottlenecking and no loss of energy along power
lines. While this is never the case, many of the assessments were done on
countries with small enough grids that the difference is negligible, and
Jacobson argues that larger countries like the U.S. can be broken down into
smaller grids to make perfect transmission less of a concern. The researchers
addressed additional uncertainties by modeling scenarios with high, mean, and
low costs of energy, air pollution damage, and climate damage.

The work deliberately focuses only on wind, water, and
solar power and excludes nuclear power, "clean coal," and biofuels.
Nuclear power is excluded because it requires 10-19 years between planning and
operation and has high costs and acknowledged meltdown, weapons proliferation,
mining, and waste risks. "Clean coal" and biofuels are not included
because they both cause heavy air pollution and still emit over 50 times more
carbon per unit of energy than wind, water, or solar power.

One concern often discussed with wind and solar power is
that they may not be able to reliably match energy supplies to the demands of
the grid, as they are dependent on weather conditions and time of year. This
issue is addressed squarely in the present study in 24 world regions. The study
finds that demand can be met by intermittent supply and storage throughout the
world. Jacobson and his team found that electrifying all energy sectors
actually creates more flexible demand for energy. Flexible demand is demand
that does not need to be met immediately. For example, an electric car battery
can be charged any time of day or night or an electric heat pump water heater
can heat water any time of day or night. Because electrification of all energy
sectors creates more flexible demand, matching demand with supply and storage
becomes easier in a clean, renewable energy world.

Jacobson also notes that the roadmaps this study offers are
not the only possible ones and points to work done by 11 other groups that also
found feasible paths to 100% clean, renewable energy. "We're just trying
to lay out one scenario for 143 countries to give people in these and other
countries the confidence that yes, this is possible. But there are many
solutions and many scenarios that could work. You're probably not going to
predict exactly what's going to happen, but it's not like you need to find the
needle in the haystack. There are lots of needles in this haystack."