Illustration: The Solutions Project
August 23, 2017 - Nearly 140 countries could be powered 100 percent by solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energy by 2050, a group of researchers say. Such a future could also mean a need for 42.5 percent less energy globally, because the efficiency of renewable sources, the scientists and engineers claim. In addition, this shift could lead to a net increase of roughly 24.3 million long-term full-time jobs, an annual decrease of up to 7 million deaths from air pollution annually, savings of more than $50 trillion in health and climate costs per year, and avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, they say. The scientists analyzed 139 countries for which data was publicly available from the International Energy Agency.
These 139 collectively emit more than 99 percent of the global warming gas carbon dioxide worldwide. They analyzed what raw renewable energy resources were available to each country, and investigated what each needed to electrify their transportation, heating, cooling, industrial, agricultural, forestry and fishing sectors. The researchers calculate that these 139 countries could be powered 80 percent by clean, renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. The mix of resources they envision for the 2050 goal include:
The scientists found that countries with the highest amount of land per person, such as the United States, China, and the members of the European Union, generally had an easier time adopting 100 percent renewable energy because of the greater ease they had finding sites for solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power.
The researchers note that their roadmap is far more aggressive than what the Paris climate agreement calls for. But it is still technically and economically feasible, and the roadmap’s overall cost to society in terms of energy, health, and climate are one-quarter that of the current fossil fuel system. Although they estimate this shift would lead to 27.7 million jobs lost, they say it would also create 50 million jobs.
The report recognizes that most important and surprising is we can obtain such large social benefits—near-zero air pollution and climate change—at essentially no extra cost. The researchers note their focus on solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal power has drawn some criticism for excluding nuclear power, carbon capture/sequestration from coal, and biofuels. Their reasons for not including nuclear power include the decade or two it can take between planning and operation, its high cost, and its risks of meltdown, waste, and weapons proliferation. They also say they left off “clean coal” and biofuels because both still cause air pollution and emit carbon dioxide.
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