What will the world look like in 2050 if we continue using our “business-as-usual” energy systems? How about if we were to replace global power production with 100% renewable, clean energy infrastructure?
Scientists at Stanford University in California have unveiled a comprehensive “roadmap” that outlines the processes and global impacts of 139 countries switching to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Effectively, scientists across the globe agree that the terms set out by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement are not aggressive enough to tackle climate change. These roadmaps are a hopeful look at the realistic and even profitable steps that countries can take to reduce climate damage and prevent global temperatures from climbing above the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5°C mark.
The roadmaps focus largely on Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) as renewable energy sources. The electricity from these sources will replace the current ones in all the vital functions of society, including transportation, electricity, heating/cooling, and industry. Additionally, the roadmaps as a solution are realistic and internationally viable, as they are based on recent climate studies originating from each of the 139 countries.
The outcomes boasted by these roadmaps are incredibly positive and demonstrate how shifting to WWS systems can lead to reductions in global energy demand, fewer widespread deaths, and job creation among other outcomes. The report’s key messages are outlined below:
- Lower global energy demand. Electricity is more efficient at converting energy into useful services than fossil fuels. Thus, even if energy consumption remains steady, switching to electricity from WWS will decrease the total energy demand. Additionally, energy will not be spent on mining, extraction, refinement, and transportation from the fossil fuel industry.
- WWS Footprint is a manageable size. The WWS footprint is defined as the physical area on top of soil or water taken up by WWS infrastructure. The new land footprint for WWS is ~0.22% of the land area of the 139 countries and does not include the land gained from unused fossil fuel infrastructure.
- Lower Electricity Costs. The total electricity produced by WWS as compared to just the electricity sector of our current system (most of which comes from burning coal) ends up in savings of ~85$/year per person in 139 countries.
- Fewer Deaths from Air Pollution. We can attribute about 4.9 million deaths per year to air pollution—derived from burning fossil fuels and other causes. Switching to WWS will significantly reduce this number to about 3.5 million deaths per year by 2050.
- Eliminated Costs from Global Warming Damage. The potential damages due to global warming, such as flooding, real-estate damage, agricultural losses, and health problems are monumental. They are estimated to cause about $28.5 trillion/year by 2050, or ~$3200/year per person. Switching to WWS will largely eliminate these long-term costs.
- Job Creation. The researchers estimated a net increase of about 24.3 million long-term jobs. A switch to WWS systems will result in the loss of ~28million jobs in the fossil fuel, biofuel, and nuclear energy sectors. However, WWS will create 52 million new jobs, including construction-related, and ongoing operation- and maintenance-related jobs.
Effectively, while the results of this study show incredible potential for a climate-change-free future, it is important to remain critical. Policy makers and industry will need to be motivated and engaged to commit to these promises. However, with enough public support and awareness, it is entirely possible.
For a more in-depth look at the roadmap, you can read the article here: https://www.cell.com/joule/pdf/S2542-4351(17)30012-0.pdf
What will the world look like in 2050 if we change our current energy systems today?