The technology needed to power the world with clean energy already exists — it just needs to be brought to scale over the next 20-40 years. This isn’t the musing of some pie-in-the-sky renewable energy utopianist, either; it’s the conclusion of a recent study by a two university researchers. Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and UC-Davis researcher Mark A. Delucchi have just published a paper in Energy Policy arguing that it’s not lacking technology that’s holding us back from a clean-powered future — it’s social and political will.
In the paper, they lay out a vision of how 90% of the world could get its energy from solar and wind plants, and the remaining 10% would be comprised of a mix of hydro, tidal, and geothermal power. Jacobson explains the vision in this brief video:
As Jacobson notes, millions of people still die from the pollution emitted by coal-burning power plants every year, and of course, and then there’s that tiny problem of global climate change. In other words, there’s reason enough for the world to embrace some such plan to drastically change its energy supply.
Beyond what’s mentioned in the video, the vision put forth by the researchers extends to transportation, too — all of our vehicles should be running on clean power, too, of course. Here’s a breakdown of the blueprint, as explained by Standford University News:
The world they envision would run largely on electricity. Their plan calls for using wind, water and solar energy to generate power, with wind and solar power contributing 90 percent of the needed energy. Geothermal and hydroelectric sources would each contribute about 4 percent in their plan (70 percent of the hydroelectric is already in place), with the remaining 2 percent from wave and tidal power. Vehicles, ships and trains would be powered by electricity and hydrogen fuel cells. Aircraft would run on liquid hydrogen. Homes would be cooled and warmed with electric heaters – no more natural gas or coal – and water would be preheated by the sun.
Following this road map, all new energy generation would come from already-existing clean sources — wind, water, and solar — by 2030. Bundling energy sources, and instituting efficiency measures could reduce the world’s energy demand by some 30% — to around 11.5 terrawatts. And by 2050, all of the coal plants would be converted or taken off line entirely. There would then be enough capacity to run the world on clean energy by 2030, and dirty energy sources could be eliminated altogether by 2050.
But then there’s that gaping lack of societal, political, and let’s not forget, commercial will. The sort of will that entrenched fossil fuel industries have no interest in promoting. And that’s why, perhaps, this can be filed under ‘Utopian vision’ after all — a planet free from human-generated carbon emissions, in under 40 years no less, would take the sort of global mobilization and cooperation that’s rarely been seen in a single society, let alone a planet.
It’s also interesting to see how more and more visions of clean energy utopias are emerging in response to the climate crisis — blueprints for worlds and societies that run exclusively and entirely on renewable power. These sort of utopias are a departure from the more traditional social utopias — but perhaps it would follow that once dirty energy were eliminated, and one of the major engines of global consumption sated, perhaps a more egalitarian social order would follow?
Regardless, these scientists make it clear — we could enact a plan like this. It’s entirely possible. It’s not technology that’s lacking — it’s our collective desire to live sustainably.
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