New Study Finds Wealthiest Nations Can Transition To 100% Clean Energy By 2050

Advances in renewable energy technology create several shortcuts in the race to a zero-carbon world.

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

And shining through the heavens. And churning beneath the Earth. And roiling in the waves.

With climate change news running from bad to worse, especially in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the devastating South Asian floods, it’s worth noting that a funny thing happened on the way home from the Paris Climate Accords. With dramatic advances in technology, it’s now becoming practical for countries to not only meet their Paris commitments, but to greatly exceed them — and save money in the process.

For the first time, renewables are actually cheaper sources of energy than heavily polluting fuels. Even as the U.S. pulls out of the Paris Accord, advanced nations and developing countries like India and China are racing towards a more sustainable future because it provides the best return on investment.

A fascinating study in Joule, explained in Popular Science, chronicles how the world is capable of weaning itself off fossil fuels with far greater haste than scientists imagined a decade ago. According to study lead Dr. Mark Jacobson, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, it would be possible — with serious investment and commitment — for 99 percent of the world’s wealthiest countries to go 80 percent renewable by 2030, and 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

That’s not only important, it’s crucial. Fossil fuels are not only becoming harder to access, they are threatening the welfare of future generations. Lord Nicholas Stern, British economist at the London School of Economics, argues in The Stern Review that unabated climate change will soon be costing governments five percent of GDP in mitigation and clean-up costs, and could eat up more than 20 percent of GDP — and possibly much more — if the worst effects are realized.

But the human costs are even more devastating. Cutting air pollution could save 4.6 million lives annually by 2050, with a concomitant cut in medical costs. Going to 100 percent renewables will  help ensure that number of climate refugees will be less than the 200+ million predicted by 2100.

The Joule article explains that one size doesn’t fit all, and what works for Canada won’t work for the U.S., and what works for the U.S. won’t work for Singapore. However, the mix of technologies will be different, but the blueprint won’t be.

The first step is to electrify everything, and we really mean everything. The transportation industry, the ways we heat and cool our houses, and agriculture and industry. It surprises many to learn that once electrification is completed, energy usage drops precipitately.

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