For $12 Trillion, Everything Can Go Right

If we’re going to get renewable energy, it’s going to cost a lot of money. More than we have?


We could power almost the entire world on renewables in just 40 years. It will just cost a little more than $12 trillion. Chump change to save the planet, or an inconcievable pile of money?

Right now, according to a soon-to-be-released UN Report, we get about 64 exajoules of power from renewables (not counting nuclear or “biofuels,” which is people burning wood and still releases carbon). The U.N. says that–if all things go right–we should be making 400 exajoules by 2050. An exajoule is a technical term for a really large amount of energy. Current demand is 492 exajoules. That will go up, but we’ll be at nearly 80% of all our power with our 400 exajoules of 2050 renewable power.

What do we need to get there? A mere $12 trillion (including $5.1 trillion before 2020). Don’t get sticker shock. First of all, remember what you get: No one freaking out about climate change any more (and the chance for continued life for everyone, which could be nice). More importantly, $12 trillion isn’t that much money. The national debt is $14 trillion. The national debt is huge, of course, but it’s reassuring to know that numbers that high can be reached in a normal economic situation. Even $14 trillion isn’t that big: A new report found that “total wealth among millionaire households could more than double over the
next decade in 25 major economies, growing from an estimated $92
trillion this year to $202 trillion in 2020.” We just need to get a few millionaires together, and we can pass the hat to get enough money to boost our renewable production.

The real question is: are the U.N. projections too optimistic? The 400 exajoules are at the more starry-eyed end of its projections. No one is going to write a $12 trillion check tomorrow, so it’s going to have to roll in slowly, as the business opportunities become more apparent. But if they’re projecting that it’s simply a question of money–not technological know-how–that’s easy. If there is one thing we’re good at, it’s throwing money at a problem.

Photo from Flickr user Kevin Krejci


About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Impact section, formerly Have an idea for a story? You can reach him at mclendaniel [at]