Beverley Mitchell

Stanford: California Can be Powered by 100% Renewable Energy by 2050

by , 08/11/14

A new study by a team from Stanford presents a “roadmap” for converting California’s all-purpose energy infrastructure over to renewable sources by 2050. The paper, published in the journal Energy, outlines the state’s expected 2050 energy needs, then proposes several steps to ensure that they can be met by a combination of wind, water and sunlight (WWS). The plan begins with all new energy infrastructure implemented from 2020 onwards using WWS sources.


Lead author of the paper, Mark Z Jacobson, has previously outlined similar proposals on a global level. And while the paper only takes into consideration existing technology, it noted that improved efficiencies in energy consumption would help achieve the goal of 100 percent WWS-sourced power more easily. Those sources selected “ranked the highest among several proposed energy options for addressing pollution, public health, global warming, and energy security.” These parameters ruled out biofuel, fossil fuel and nuclear energy sources. The paper also allowed for California’s population to increase at a faster rate than the rest of the U.S., following current trends. Conversion to electric vehicles would also be necessary to fully implement the plan.

Related: Global Renewable Energy Capacity Has Nearly Doubled to 1,560 Gigawatts Since 2004

Using the ranking criteria cited above, the paper concluded that wind, concentrated solar, geothermal, solar photovoltaics, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power were the best options for generating electricity. The final mix of sources was proposed to be 55 percent solar, 35 percent wind, five percent geothermal, four percent hydro and one percent wave or tidal. The plan also favors siting future WWS infrastructure in areas “where biological resource value is low and energy resources are high,” that is brown field sites, degraded land, on top of existing and new urban infrastructure, and near existing power transmission sites. In terms of roll out, the authors write, “The plan contemplates all new energy from WWS by 2020, 80–85% of existing energy converted by 2030, and 100% by 2050.”

The paper estimates the plan would create around 220,000 more long-term jobs than were lost by the phasing out of existing energy sources. It would also eliminate between 3,800 and 23,200 premature deaths a year attributable to air pollution, and avoid the associated health system costs to the tune of between $31 billion to $232 billion per annum. While acknowledging the tax implications of the changeover and the considerable infrastructure costs involved, the paper concludes the costs could be quickly recouped: “The California air-pollution health plus global climate cost benefits from eliminating California emissions could equal the $1.1 trillion installation cost of 603 GW of new power needed for a 100% all-purpose WWS system within ~7 (4–14) years.”

Via Motherboard and Energy

Photos by Kim Hansen via Wikimedia Commons; Rod Searcey via Stanford University; and MZ Jacobson et al via Energy

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