In a study published by Energy in June, a group of Stanford academics predicted that California will use only renewable energy by 2050.
Researchers outlined how to power California with wind, water and solar energy and discussed land-use implications, supply and demand and job creation. The study also provided recommended first steps and a timeline for implementing the plan.
By examining years of air quality data, epidemiological data, financial data and population data, researchers concluded that renewable energy is currently economically, technically and materially feasible.
“The resources are all there [for an] all-wind, water and solar mix,” said Mark Jacobsen ’88 M.S. ’88, co-author of the study and Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Jacobsen explained that, in addition to being feasible, renewable energy is more economical and more efficient than the current energy infrastructure, which consists predominantly of fossil fuels.
“In the long run, the cost of the new energy is lower than the cost of the existing energy, so if people want to make money, then they will make this change,” Jacobsen said. “It’s a lower fuel cost for renewable energy.”
The study also found that renewable energy would stimulate job creation since it is less mechanized and more labor-intensive than fossil fuels.
According to Jacobsen, renewable energy already employs thousands of Americans in jobs as diverse as solar installation, turbine construction and project development. But he also explained that the benefits are more than just economic.
As the study discussed, renewable energy decreases air pollution, results in cleaner water systems and provides a more abundant energy supply. Traditional fossil-fuel-based energy has adverse impacts on human health, causing carbon levels to rise and particulates to circulate through the air.
Brian Bateman, a health and science officer at Bay Area Air Quality Management, explained that poor air quality exacerbates asthma, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease. In California’s current drought, soot, dust and other tiny airborne debris are at dangerously high levels. Bateman explained that renewable energy provides a cleaner and more natural alternative to fossil fuels.
However, the researchers admitted that renewable energy is not without flaws, including an initial cost hump and problems with supply reliability. According to Jacobsen, the primary issue is in its implementation.
While the authors of the study believe California will use only renewable energy by 2050, there is still the challenge of rallying enough political support for the transition.
Mark Delucchi, co-author of the study and research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, believes that California has the resources to become an all-renewable energy state but explained that it first needs the go-ahead from policy-makers.
“There is a big difference between what is technically and economically feasible and what is politically feasible, and we recognize that,” Delucchi said. “Just because we show that it is technically and economically feasible doesn’t mean it is easy to do in a political sense – that’s a whole other matter.”
According to Jacobsen and Delucchi, educating policy-makers and the general public about the potential of renewable energy is the logical first step. By highlighting that the transition would save money, improve public health and benefit the environment, the study aims to foster the kind of awareness that could turn into activism.
Contact Caroline Harris at 15charris ‘at’ castilleja.org.