The world could be 100% renewable by 2050

A new study by Stanford University’s Atmosphere/Energy Program makes the case that the world could be fully powered by renewable energy as early as 2050 by detailing the necessary resources for each country.

Researchers analyzed energy roadmaps for 139 countries and calculated how much energy they would need to meet demand for household electricity, industry, agriculture, transportation, heating and cooling. They examined the best renewable energy sources for the different countries and which ones made the most economic sense for each nation. According to their findings, solar, wind and hydro power could cover most of the energy demand in each country. Geothermal energy would also benefit a number of countries, including Iceland.

Speaking to innovation news website Co.Exist, Atmosphere/Energy Program director Mark Z. Jacobson said, "These are basically plans showing it’s technically and economically feasible to change the energy infrastructure of all of these different countries."

Jacobson rejected claims that adopting renewable energy to such a wide extent would be too expensive and unreliable. “What this shows is that all these claims are mythical."

Presenting a timeline for full adoption of renewables, the study says countries would stop building new coal, natural gas, biomass or nuclear plants by 2020; new home appliances like stoves and heaters would be electric, not gas. By 2025, new cargo ships, trains, and buses would be electrified, followed by cars and trucks by 2030. The transition would be complete by 2050.

Jacobson stressed the renewable energy was already cheap and costs continue to decline, noting that wind was currently the cheapest power in the U.S. at just 3.5 cents a kilowatt-hour, not including subsidies, compared to 6 to 8 cents for natural gas.

Adoption of a global green energy infrastructure would also provide power to four billion people who currently do not have access to reliable energy or to any kind of power. The energy independence of countries would also eliminate a major cause of global conflict. Decentralizing power would also reduce the danger posed by terrorism and lower the risk of outages by storms.

As for the added benefits to health and climate, the study estimates that widespread use renewables would save 4 to 7 million lives a year of people who would have died from air pollution. Those deaths would normally cost the world around 3% of the global GDP, it adds. Green energy sources would lead to a stabilization of energy prices, since renewables are not dependent on a commodity fuel, and the creation of some 20 million more jobs than those lost in the fossil fuel sector.