Ambitious clean energy goals abound—the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, for example, proposes the switch to 42% renewable energy in the U.S by 2030—but are we selling ourselves short? Stanford civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson and UC Davis researcher Mark Delucchi think we are. The pair has created a plan to power the planet using only wind, water, and solar energy by 2030.
According to Jacobson and Delucchi, making the full switch to renewables could cut the world's power demand by 30%, making the transition more energy and cost-efficient than sticking with fossil fuels. That's because vehicles that use fossil fuels and biomass combustion are inefficient; they lose up to 80% of energy to heat (the rest is converted into motion). In comparison, energy produced by electricity loses only 20% to heat. So by transitioning to renewables, Jacobson and Delucchi claim we could eliminate the need for 13,000 coal plants and save enough cash to justify the switch.
How can we possibly convert to 100% renewables in the next 20 years? Jacobson and Delucchi say we'll need 3.8 million large wind turbines, 89,000 300-megawatt solar plants, 490,000 tidal turbines, 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, and 900 hydroelectric plants. For some perspective, only 2% of these renewable energy facilities currently exist, and that's not including the untold numbers of transmission lines that we'd have to build.
It seems like an absurdly difficult task, but Jacobson and Delucchi's point is that it's possible. We have the technical know-how and all the materials necessary to make this happen. But do we have the political will?