It can often feel like a future where we get all of our energy needs from renewable sources is far, far away, but the reality is that the technology we have now is already good enough. A recent study by MIT said that current solar technology has the potential to get us there with key investments and innovation along the way will just make it even better.
A new study by the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University along with University of California researchers has found that the entire world could be fully powered by renewables by 2050 and outlines the right mix of resources for each country.
The team analyzed energy roadmaps for 139 countries, calculating how much energy each would need to cover electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, industry, and agriculture demands, and found that wind, solar and hydro power could provide the majority of the energy needs, with some places, namely Iceland, benefitting from geothermal as well.
The study looked at the different renewable energy sources and what parts of the countries could be served by each, and at what cost, to come up with the best mix for each area.
"People who are trying to prevent this change would argue that it's too expensive, or there's just not enough power, or they try to say that it's unreliable, that it will take too much land area or resources," said Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program to FastCoExist. "What this shows is that all these claims are mythical."
The cost of renewable energy is falling all of the time. Wind power is already much cheaper than natural gas in the U.S. at 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. The study also notes that the health benefits from switching to polluting fossil fuels to clean energy would bring huge savings in reduction of health care costs. About 4 to 7 million people die every year from air pollution and that costs the world 3% of the global GDP.
The study breaks down a timeline to get us from where we are now to a fully renewable-powered world. By 2020, new nuclear, fossil fuel and biomass plants would stop being built. Home appliances would all be converted to electric, not gas. By 2025, new trains, buses and ships would all be electric with cars and trucks catching up by 2030. Then, by 2050 all energy created would be from renewable sources and all of the infrastructure would be ready to run on it.
The obstacles to getting there are what they always have been: political will and investments. If countries choose to take this path, the money will follow and we can get there, but it will take our world leaders making the decision to change and not stay the same.