United States Renewable Energy 2050
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Several U.S. states already produce over 80 percent of their energy with renewables including wind, solar, hydropower, and biofuels: Washington, Oregon, Maine, Idaho, Nevada, South Dakota, and Iowa. In economic growth and job creation, these states outperform the top coal states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming, Missouri, and Utah.
A growing number of corporations source 100 percent of their U.S. electricity from renewables including Intel, Microsoft, Kohl’s, Uniliver, and State Street. Hundreds of additional companies have committed to get to 100 percent renewables within the next four years including Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks, Walmart, Google, SAP, Salesforce, P&G, Philips, Nike, Nestle, Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs.
Eighteen percent of U.S. electrical generation capacity is now from renewables. The U.S. has 75 GW of installed wind power and 25 GW of installed solar. Every month, Kenneth Bossong publishes a summary of the data from EIA and FERC. Almost every month, the news gets better. In 2015, 64 percent of new capacity in the U.S. was renewables.
Economics are driving growth. Once wind and solar power are installed, they generate electricity for 25 years, or more, without added fuel cost. The U.S. installed record levels of solar power in 2015, led by California, North Carolina, Nevada, Massachusetts, and New York. Oil and gas drilling rigs are at their lowest level in 75 years. Electricity from coal has dropped from 53 percent to 33 percent in ten years. Renewable use soars, even in the face of fossil-fuel subsidies and utility monopoly barriers.
The United States leads the world in energy efficiency. The buildings that use most of our generated electricity have switched to LED lighting, efficient heating and air conditioning, superior insulation and windows. Hundreds of buildings are zero-net energy (ZNE). From ZNE buildings, we will progress to ZNE apartments, ZNE campuses, ZNE cities, and ZNE states. For example, with many of its buildings already ZNE, by 2025, the entire University of California system with 400,000 faculty and staff plans to be ZNE.
President Obama to Sign Climate Agreement on April 22
In New York on this Earth Day of April 22, leaders of the world will gather at the UN to sign the Paris Agreement for Climate Change. President Barack Obama will sign for the United States.
The stakes are high. If the United States fails to lead by example, the world may be 2 degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it was in 1800; by 2100 we could all face extreme water and food shortages and radical climate in a world 3 to 7 degrees Celsius warmer. Tipping points could trigger irreversible change.
The United States emits 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. The recent Paris Agreement Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) targets a 26 to 28 percent carbon emission reduction for the U.S. in 2025, dropping to 4.8 billion tons of CO2e from our 2005 emissions of 6.5 billion tons of CO2e.
If we continue our progress in wind, solar, building efficiency, and smart transportation, then we will exceed our INDC. Most new energy production is now solar and wind. Our power sector emissions are already 18 percent below 2005 levels. The U.S. is so efficient that our energy needs are decreasing as our population increases.
More people are living car-free in cities using rail, transit and ridesharing services. Cars are more fuel-efficient. By 2025 millions will be driving electric cars, up from 400,000 in the United States today. In fact, over 300,000 have made deposits to buy the new Tesla Model 3, with a 215-mile electric range and base price of $35,000.
Reaching those targets may depend on who is elected the next U.S. president, with Democratic candidates supporting the Paris agreement and Republicans denying anthropogenic climate change and committed to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.
The next president will either accelerate our use of wind and solar, or provide increased assistance to use government land for shale oil, fracking, and coal. Endangering our emissions reduction is the methane leaks from fracking to pipeline to storage to use. Methane traps 25 times the heat of CO2 during its life in the atmosphere.
The next president can damage, but not stop, our progress. A record number of businesses are saving money with energy efficiency and solar power. Every year more will use 100 percent renewables. Thirty U.S. states have renewable portfolio standards (RPS). California’s RPS targets 50 percent renewables by 2030; Vermont, 75 percent by 2032; Hawaii 100 percent renewables by 2045.
United States reduction of 26 to 28 percent emissions by 2025 is just the beginning.
100 Percent Renewable United States
From buildings to campuses to cities to states, we are moving towards a renewably powered United States. Just as coal and petroleum powered our past, wind and solar will power our future.
Efficiency is the key. Buildings that leaked heat and cold will be replaced and retrofitted with insulated, smart and 100 percent electricity using structures for work and living. Millions of homes and buildings will be zero-net energy.
In the future, wide freeways clogged with gas guzzling cars will be replaced with better transportation that we navigate with a smart app that guides us through Uber-type self-driving electric cars, electric transit and rail.
One employer at a time, one city at a time, one university at a time, we are progressing towards a renewably powered future. In fact, using today’s technology we could power 100 percent of the United States, including transportation.
We have the technology, we have the need to protect our health and future, but do we have the political will? To achieve 100 percent renewables we must measure carbon emissions, eliminate all subsidies for carbon emissions, end the monopoly status of electric utilities, price carbon emissions, and drive solutions until there are no carbon emissions.
Based on extensive data analysis and modeling at Stanford and other leading universities, you can see a cost-effective 100 percent scenario for the state or nation of your choice at The Solutions Project, such as this scenario for a 100 percent renewably powered United States in 2050:
- 30.9% Onshore wind
- 17.5% Offshore wind
- 25.0% Utility-scale PV solar
- 7.3% Utility CSP solar
- 7.4% Commercial rooftop solar
- 8.0% Residential solar
- 3.1% Hydroelectric
- 0.5% Geothermal
- 0.4% Wave energy
The fossil fuel industry claims that we do not have enough land for renewable generation. In fact, most solar is covering roofs, carports, and ZNE buildings; wind is deployed on deserts, ocean, and farmland. Less than two percent of land would be used to power the U.S. with wind and solar.
This scenario uses 44 percent less energy than business-as-usual due to energy efficiency, intelligent energy storage, demand management, electric transportation and smart cities. Over scenario projects over 5 million new jobs in our transition to a 100 percent renewable economy.
Our economy will grow faster, with less pollution health costs, and energy that is 20 percent less expensive than now. The United States is on a path to lead by example in stopping global warming and its associated damage from food and water shortages.
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This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.
Update for April 20, 2021:
After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.
-Ron & Stewart
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.
What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.