Stanford Roadmap Paves The Way for Transition to Renewable Energy


By Maura Forrest

March 6, 2014

A Stanford University scientist has developed a 50-state roadmap that would allow the United States to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“Drastic problems require drastic and immediate solutions,” said Dr. Mark Jacobson in a Stanford press release. “Our new roadmap is designed to provide each state a first step toward a renewable future.”

Jacobson and his colleagues have assigned different combinations of renewable energy sources to the various states, based on geography and natural resources.

Florida, for example, would obtain almost 50 percent of its energy from solar power. The Midwestern states would rely heavily on wind farms, while many of the coastal northeastern states would tap offshore wind.

The roadmap also estimates the number of jobs that would be created by the transition to renewable energy in each state – roughly 750,000 in California alone – and the number of deaths avoided from improvements in air quality. It calculates the annual energy, health, and climate cost savings in 2050, which weigh in at a whopping $24,500 per person in Alaska, for instance.

The picture might not be as rosy as it seems. In 2013, Jacobson published a renewable energy plan for New York state. That study was criticized for underestimating the upfront cost of a transition to renewable power and for ignoring the social and political barriers to such a plan.

Nigel Protter, executive director of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association, said that a similar roadmap is “technically possible” in Canada.

“Canada certainly has enough renewable capacity,” he said. “It’s just a question of … not locking us into a resource extraction economy as we are now.”

Canada’s roadmap would likely be dominated by wind power, hydroelectricity and tidal power. Protter said that linking electricity grids across the country would boost renewable potential, as electricity could be transferred across time zones to meet peak demand in different cities.

A major obstacle to renewable energy development is getting investors to buy into projects that might need 20 or 30 years to deliver returns.

Protter said that renewable energy might take a while to become profitable, but investments in renewables are generally low-risk.

“With renewables, you can be pretty darn sure how your project’s going to perform financially,” he said. “You’re not going to get rich quick, but you can get rich long.”