A team of researchers from Stanford University have drawn up a roadmap for each of the 50 US states to convert to renewable energy sources and infrastructure, with the aim of completing the transition by 2050.

Converting the US to Clean Energy on a State-by-State Basis

Could the United States operate properly using 100% ‘clean’ energy by 2050? This is precisely what a recent paper written by a team led by Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, who directs the university’s Atmosphere and Energy Program, set out to demonstrate. They want to prove that a transition to renewable energy sources and infrastructure is not a mere pipe-dream but an achievable objective. The team of scientists has in fact drawn up a separate plan for each of the 50 federal states in the Union. The plans specify the radical measures that will need to be taken, regarding both changing the way US citizens consume energy and the infrastructure in place today. The paper argues that these radical changes are perfectly feasible since the states would be able to switch to clean energy by using on a larger scale technologies that already exist – wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewable energy techniques. The ultimate aim is to engage the general public by giving them as much information as possible and encouraging them to play an active part in the transition in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Longer term, the team hope their roadmap will help to bring down the social, political and economic barriers that are hampering the ‘clean’ energy transition.

Specific plan for energy consumption in each state

In order to draw up the 50 plans, one for each state’s specific energy consumption, the team looked at each state’s demand for energy and considered how that might evolve by 2050. In order to represent power consumption in a thorough manner across the board, they focused on four key areas – electricity, transportation, heating/cooling and industry. For each of these sectors, the researchers analysed the total conventional energy demand – supplied by a range of fuels including coal, oil, nuclear power and other sources – to 2050 and then projected consumption if each sector were to be electrified. Under their hypothesis, all means of transport would be powered by electricity and all homes would convert to electricity-powered heating. The calculations showed that energy efficiencies brought by these changes would lead to a 39% reduction in total energy demand by 2050 if their transition plans were carried through properly.

An interactive map created by the researchers, available on the thesolutionproject.org site, showing which types of energy would be adopted by each state

80% of the US energy transition achievable by 2030

Once electricity had been established as the major power source, an entirely new type of electricity grid would be built, fed entirely by renewable energies, including wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and wave and tidal power. The paper shows that if the plans for each state are followed, the projected energy transition should be 80% achieved by 2030 and 100% complete by 2050. Some states have already made considerable progress along this path, e.g. Washington state, whose power grid is already 70% fed by hydroelectricity, covering 35% of the state’s overall energy requirements. The states of Iowa and South Dakota are also relatively well-placed, currently generating 30% of their electricity from wind turbines. The energy transition will of course require investment, but harnessing the sun’s rays, the power of the wind and the force of river currents and sea tides avoids fuel purchases and fuel-related costs. The Stanford team argues that in the long term, converting to renewable energy should create jobs, stabilise the oil price, cut back on the CO2 emissions which exacerbate global warming and – at a time when an estimated 63,000 US citizens are suffering from illnesses directly related to air pollution – reduce energy-related pollutants in the air.

By Anthéa Delpuech